Sustainable Materials and Infrastructure

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Pioneering new approaches to enhance resilience and sustainability of materials and structures that will shift the paradigm of traditional infrastructure to face the perils of global warming.

Bold solutions for sustainable materials and green infrastructure

Developing science-enabled engineering innovations from the nano to the macroscale, we design new and improved sustainable material systems that enhance our society’s resilience to climate change, and preserve our ecological infrastructure and biodiversity.

Materials and structures are the backbone of our societies’ health, economic growth, resilience and social progress and equity, providing shelter and mobility in a rapidly changing world. But with the challenges of climate change and diminishing natural resources, they are becoming stressed and strained.

More traffic is building up across cities, while roads, bridges, water systems, power plants are reaching the limits of providing a healthy, safe and equitable environment for our society at large.

Our research is tackling these challenges of preserving our natural resources and developing sustainable materials for resilient infrastructure.  Through experimental and computational approaches that span the molecular to the macro scales, our researchers work on changing the paradigm of the built environment to become part of the solution of our natural habitat for the 21st century. We re-engineer the function of traditional structures such as roads and bridges to store and harvest energy, while self-adapting to the perils of climate change. Our work is centered around reducing the carbon footprint of materials and structures by pioneering bold solutions for traditional and new materials, including cement-based, polymer-based and bio-inspired with enhanced durability, resilience and reduced environmental impacts.

Key areas include:

  • Future durable building materials inspired from ancient technologies
  • Geotechnical engineering and energy infrastructure
  • Bio-inspired design of modern architected materials
  • Topology optimization and additive manufacturing
  • Atomistic and molecular modeling of protein-based materials
  • Physics of multiphase flow in porous media
  • Computational mechanics and structural dynamics
  • Structural health monitoring and intelligent structures

Example of class offerings

Mechanics of Materials

Introduces the structure and properties of natural and manufactured building materials, including rheology elasticity, fracture mechanics, viscoelasticity and plasticity. Emphasizes effects of molecular and nanoscopic structure and interactions on macroscopic material behavior. Focuses on design of natural and structural materials. Discusses material aspects of sustainable development. Presents principles of experimental characterization techniques. Explores microscopic and macroscopic mechanical approaches to characterize structure and properties of materials. In laboratory and in-field sessions, students design and implement experimental approaches to characterize natural and building materials and study their interaction with the environment. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Heritage Science and Technology

Interdisciplinary, applied introduction to ancient materials and technology. Students explore materials sustainability and durability from multiple perspectives, using ancient societies, architecture and building materials as time-proven examples of innovation in construction. Involves discussions of peer-reviewed literature and cultural heritage, project formulation, data collection, and data analysis. Culminates in presentation of research project(s), and write-ups of the research in manuscript form.

Structural dynamics

Examines response of structures to dynamic excitation: free vibration, harmonic loads, pulses and earthquakes. Covers systems of single- and multiple-degree-of-freedom, up to the continuum limit, by exact and approximate methods. Includes applications to buildings, ships, aircraft and offshore structures. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Infrastructure Design for Climate Change

In this team-oriented, project-based subject, students work to find technical solutions that could be implemented to mitigate the effects of natural hazards related to climate change, bearing in mind that any proposed measures must be appropriate in a given region’s socio-political-economic context. Students are introduced to a variety of natural hazards and possible mitigation approaches as well as principles of design, including adaptable design and design for failure. Students select the problems they want to solve and develop their projects. During the term, officials and practicing engineers of Cambridge, Boston, Puerto Rico, and MIT Facilities describe their approaches. Student projects are documented in a written report and oral presentation. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments. Enrollment limited; preference to juniors and seniors.

Atomistic Modeling and Simulation of Materials and Structures

Covers multiscale atomistic modeling and simulation methods, with focus on mechanical properties (elasticity, plasticity, creep, fracture, fatigue) of a range of materials (metals, ceramics, proteins, biological materials, biomaterials). Topics include mechanics of materials (energy principles, nano-/micromechanics, deformation mechanisms, size effects, hierarchical biological structures) and atomistic modeling (chemistry, interatomic potentials, visualization, data analysis, numerical methods, supercomputing, algorithms). Includes an interactive computational project.

Materials in Agriculture, Food Security, and Food Safety

Offers a unique perspective on the interplay between advanced materials, agriculture and food. Illustrates the impact that advanced materials-based innovation is imparting to four key areas of agriculture: management of plant diseases, mitigation of saline soil, enhancement of crop yield and productivity, and food safety and food security. Exposes students to engineering design concepts that are germane to biopolymer processing, functionalization and characterization, which will be coupled with hands-on activity in a lab setting. Students regenerate, process and functionalize biopolymers from raw to advanced materials, paving the way for the second part of the class, which centers around a proposed research project that aims at bringing materials-based innovation into agriculture.

Topology Optimization of Structures

Covers free-form topology design of structures using formal optimization methods and mathematical programs, including design of structural systems, mechanisms, and material architectures. Strong emphasis on designing with gradient-based optimizers, finite element methods, and design problems governed by structural mechanics. Incorporates optimization theory and computational mechanics fundamentals, problem formulation, sensitivity analysis; and introduces cutting-edge extensions, including to other and multiple physics.

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