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  1. Bone-Shaped Wires Strengthen, Harden Concrete

The interior of the Sagrada Familia, constructed of reinforced concrete to a design by Gaudi


A "cage" of reinforcing steel

Concrete is used extremely widely in building and civil engineering structures, due to its low cost, flexibility, durability, and high strength. It also has high resistance to fire. Concrete is a brittle material and it is strong in compression and very weak in tension. It behaves non-linearly at all times. Because it has essentially zero strength in tension, it is almost always used as reinforced concrete, a composite material. It is a mixture of sand, aggregate, cement and water. It is placed in a mould, or form, as a liquid, and then it sets (goes off), due to a chemical reaction between the water and cement. The hardening of the concrete is called curing. The reaction is exothermic (gives off heat).

Concrete increases in strength continually from the day it is cast. Assuming it is not cast under water or in constantly 100% relative humididy, it shrinks over time as it dries out, and it deforms over time due to a phenomenon called creep. Its strength depends highly on how it is mixed, poured, cast, compacted, cured (kept wet while setting), and whether or not any admixtures were used in the mix. It can be cast into any shape that a form can be made for. Its colour, quality, and finish depend upon the complexity of the structure, the material used for the form, and the skill of the worker.

Concrete is a non-linear, non-elastic material, and will fail suddenly, with a brittle failure, unless adequate reinforced with steel. An "under-reinforced" concrete element will fail with a ductile manner, as the steel will fail before the concrete. An "over-reinforced" element will fail suddenly, as the concrete will fail first. Reinforced concrete elements should be designed to be under-reinforced so users of the structure will receive warning of impending collapse. This is a technical term. Reinforced concrete can be designed without enough reinforcing. A better term would be properly reinforced where the member can resist all the design loads adequately and it is not over-reinforced.

The elastic modulus of concrete can vary widely and depends on the concrete mix, age, and quality, as well as on the type and duration of loading applied to it. It is usually taken as approximately 25 GPa for long-term loads once it has attained its full strength (usually considered to be at 28 days after casting). It is taken as approximately 38 GPa for very short-term loading, such as footfalls.

Concrete has very favourable properties in fire - it is not adversely affected by fire until it reaches very high temperatures. It also has very high mass, so it is good for providing sound insulation and heat retention (leading to lower energy requirements for the heating of concrete buildings). This is offset by the fact that producing and transporting concrete is very energy intensive.

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