Materials Development: Glass and Concrete
Simple materials can often be very complex—solids like glass and concrete are very familiar and of great practical importance, yet are also, surprisingly, poorly understood. Because of the range of products and construction methods which involve them, understanding and improving the properties of glass and concrete will have a large, positive impact on society. Materials scientist Dr. Josef Zwanziger, Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Studies of Materials, is trying to create new forms of glass and concrete composites by closely coupling the processes of synthesis, characterization and modeling. Zwanziger is making extensive use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)—a method by which the magnetic signatures of atoms in molecules are used to infer the structure and dynamics of molecules. The resulting information is crucial to the understanding of the material's performance at the molecular level. In one application, Zwanziger is seeking to understand the changes in the optical properties of glass when stress is applied. Such changes are known to degrade picture quality in certain kinds of television sets, for example, and have been controlled by the use of high lead content in the glass. Recent environmental regulations however have greatly curtailed the use of lead in consumer products, and so Zwanziger hopes to understand how lead works in this context and how to replace it. This research combines a variety of tools—including glass synthesis, characterization (both optically and structurally) and advanced modeling methods. In a second theme, Zwanziger is seeking to improve concrete performance through additives designed to prevent fracture at a lighter weight and lower cost than steel reinforcement. This work is done in collaboration with former Canada Research Chair Jean-François Trottier and a company based in Nova Scotia. The work again combines synthesis with characterization and modeling, and may have many practical implications in civil engineering.