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Why Ancient Roman Concrete Lasts For Millenia
Ancient sea walls built by the Romans used a concrete made from lime and volcanic ash to bind with rocks and get stronger with age (CCSS Level: Grade 9, Words: 421)
Jul 9, 2017 Science & Technology
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Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbours, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become "a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger." He wasn't exaggerating. While modern marine concrete structures crumble within decades, 2,000-year-old Roman piers and breakwaters endure to this day, and are stronger now than when they were first built.

Now scientists have determined the mystery of why these ancient coastal structures are still standing. Researchers, led by University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson, looked at the microscopic structures of Roman concrete samples by subjecting them to numerous spectroscopic tests and imaging techniques. The tests showed a rare reaction took place that triggered the growth of aluminous tobermorite crystals. Further geology detective work proved that the crystals were formed when seawater seeped through the little cracks in the Roman concrete, reacting with the mineral phillipsite, found in volcanic rock.

The concrete used by Roman builders in piers and harbours was made in such a way that it grew ever stronger over time. Modern concrete, by comparison, tends to decay in just decades when exposed to saltwater. These findings could have an important role to play as many communities worldwide brace for rising sea levels.

Romans created concrete by mixing volcanic ash, quicklime and chunks of volcanic rock. Even through we've figured out the ingredients, scientists still don't know the recipe. How did the Romans manage to make the concrete so long-lasting? The key has turned out to be in the chemical reaction caused by the addition of seawater. However "the recipe was completely lost," Jackson says. She has extensively studied ancient Roman texts, but hasn't yet uncovered the precise methods for mixing the marine mortar, to fully re-create the concrete.

The Roman concrete was made to interact with its environment, as opposed to modern concrete which stays inert and gets damaged over time. Seawater is the reason why the Roman mixture gets stronger. As seawater reacts with volcanic material, new minerals are created that reinforce the concrete.

"Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with," she says. "They observed that effects of volcanic ash. We don't have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made," Jackson added.

She is now working with geological engineer Tom Adams to develop a replacement recipe that hopefully will be just as strong and long-lasting as the Roman mix.

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an-cient

very old


adj.古老

ash

the powdery residue left after the burning of a substance or emitted by a volcano


n.灰

as-sault

a physical attack


v.冲击

au-thor

a writer of a book or report


n.作者

coast

the edge of the land where it meets the sea


n.岸边

com-par-i-son

the act or instance of comparing


n.对照

com-plete

to finish, end 


v.完成

com-plet-ly

totally, entirely


adv.完全

con-crete

a heavy, rough building material made from a mixture of gravel, sand, cement, and water


n.混凝土

cre-a-ted

bring into being, make


v.创建

crum-ble

break or fall apart into small fragments, especially over time


v.奔溃

crys-tals

solids with a regular pattern


n.晶体

da-mage

hurt or cause harm


v.损伤

de-cade

a period of ten years    


n.十年/一旬

de-tec-tive

a person who investigates and solves crimes


n.侦探

de-ter

discourage (someone) from doing something, usually through fear of consequences


v.阻止/吓住

de-ter-mine

cause something to happen in a certain way


v.确定/决定/下决心

en-vi-ron-ment

place where something lives


n.环境

ex-ag-ge-ra-ting

represent (something) as being larger, greater, better, or worse than it really is


adj.夸大

ex-posed

easily seen, uncovered


v.裸露

ge-o-log-ical

of, relating to, or based on geology


adj.地质

im-preg-na-ble

unable to be captured or broken into


adj.坚不可摧

in-gre-di-ents

foods that are mixed to make a dish or meal,
parts or pieces used to make something


n.配料

ma-rine

to do with the sea


adj.海洋

mi-cro-sco-pic

so small as to be visible only with a microscope


adj.显微/精微的

mi-ner

a person who works in a mine


n.矿工

mi-ne-rals

a solid inorganic substances naturally occurring


n.矿物质

my-ste-ry

something hard to understand or explain


n.神秘

na-tu-ral

from nature, not manmade


adj.自然/天然

nu-mer-ous

great in number; many


adj.众多

quick-lime

calcium oxide, burnt lime


n.生石灰

rare

not common, not often seen


adj.罕见

re-act

behave because of something


v.应对

re-place

take the place of


v.更换

re-search

looking for knowledge


v.调研

re-search-er

person who searches for knowledge


n.研究员

rough

having an uneven or irregular surface; not smooth or level


adj.粗暴

sci-en-tists

experts in science, people who study science


n.科学家

spec-tro-scopic

observing a spectrum of light or radiation from a source to find its makeup


adj.光谱

struc-tures

built or arranged from parts


n.结构

tend

regularly or frequently behave in a particular way or have a certain characteristic


v.趋向

vol-ca-nic

produced by a volcano


adj.火山

world wide

all around the world, everywhere


adj.全世界