• Question: What is the most common-way man-made structures get damaged by nature, and how do you respond to it?

    Asked by beep360gap to Adam on 20 Nov 2019.
    • Photo: Adam Wootton

      Adam Wootton answered on 20 Nov 2019:

      The structures that I deal with are made up of special steel reinforcing meshes, like the one below.

      These are really the thing that makes the structure strong, and we then cover them in concrete to give it a rigid structure and protect the steel from corrosion. However, over time, water can leak through the concrete and break down the special layer that protects the steel. The steel then rusts away and can even disappear completely, which makes the structure a lot less strong. The special layer is particularly damaged by salty water, so this damage is even worse for structures that are near the sea. What’s worse is that it’s really difficult to know when the steel has rusted away! How do we know what’s going on inside concrete without breaking it open?
      The only way to solve fix the corrosion is to dig up the structure and replace the steel. I work on methods for looking inside the concrete and finding what is going on with the steel reinforcing, without having to break the concrete open. Computers are really helpful with this, since they can look at the data we take and tell us exactly which parts of the structure will need repairing in real time. That’s better than having humans manually look through the data, which could take weeks for a big structure!