New Orleans levee failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina points out the need for technologies to strengthen levees and monitor their reliability.

Deborah D.L. Chung, a University at Buffalo materials scientist, is the inventor of smart concrete, which was patented in 1998.

“The technology used to build levees is really very primitive —
sometimes it involves just the piling of dirt, says Chung, director of the Composite Materials Research Laboratory in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Surely there’s a lot of room to use higher technologies than that.”

With smart concrete, short carbon fibers are added to the conventional concrete mixture. This modification gives the concrete the ability to detect stress and tiny deformations in the concrete.

In the presence of structural flaws — within a levee made of smart concrete, for example — the concrete’s electrical resistance increases. This change can be detected by electrical probes placed on the outside of structures.

More here.