Hamlin Jennings will lead new Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT

| May 6, 2010

Hamlin Jennings, who is known among academic and industry researchers for his influential work on the fundamental chemistry of cement, will be the inaugural executive director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH), a research center established last fall at MIT in collaboration with the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) Research & Education Foundation.

Jennings will leave a tenured faculty position at Northwestern University to lead the CSH, taking up his new responsibilities at MIT beginning July 1, where he will also hold the position of adjunct professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, administrative home of the CSH.

“Hamlin Jennings is widely recognized as a pre-eminent researcher and leader in the field of cement chemistry,” said Professor Andrew Whittle, head of the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in a written statement. “His research experience and intellectual stature, as well as his own passion for the goals of the Concrete Sustainability Hub make him the perfect person to take on leadership of this important new initiative. We are delighted he has agreed to join us at MIT.”

Jennings developed the first fully quantitative model of the nanostructure of calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H), the major component of hydrated cement. This model formed a basis for quantitatively predicting the mechanical properties of the material and linking these properties to the design of new materials. He currently holds appointments in civil and environmental engineering and in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University (NU), and was head of NU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from 2002 to 2006.

“MIT has assembled an extraordinarily gifted team of scientists and engineers with the express objective of transforming our understanding of a complete materials science approach to cement and concrete,” said Jennings, who is a native Bostonian. “While this is complex and ambitious, it will lead to new strategies for addressing global issues, such as improving durability and other properties while reducing the carbon and energy footprints. My goals and those of the CSH are so well aligned that even though it means leaving the stimulating environment of Northwestern University, it is an opportunity and an honor that I cannot refuse.”

The CSH was established in October 2009 with an initial grant of $10 million from industrial sponsors, with the goal of accelerating emerging breakthroughs in concrete science and swiftly transferring those research advances into industry. (The hub’s acronym is a play on the calcium silicate hydrate of cement’s nanostructure.) As executive director of the CSH, Jennings will provide intellectual leadership for the research center and seek to expand the center’s funding base.

“We are confident that the CSH researchers will advance scientific breakthroughs to make the manufacture of concrete and cement even more sustainable into the future, but the real key will be to translate that into industry practice,” said Julia Garbini, executive director of the RMC Research & Education Foundation. “Hamlin Jennings’ unique experience of working with academic researchers and the cement and concrete industries makes him an ideal choice to help us bring those research advances into practical application.”

Concrete is the most widely used building material on Earth. But the production of cement — its basic building block at the nanoscale — accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions, prompting industry leaders to seek ways to reduce that carbon footprint. Under the CSH umbrella, researchers from three of MIT’s schools, the School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning and Sloan School of Management, will engage in research activities to do just that.

“The cement and concrete industries have long been committed to not only producing our products in sustainable ways, but to see those products used in the most sustainable manner. The research undertaken by CSH will position our industries as leaders in the sustainable development movement,” said Brian McCarthy, CEO and president of PCA.

Research projects in the Concrete Sustainability Hub will fall under three areas: concrete materials science, building technology, and the econometrics of sustainable development. Projects in two of those areas are already in progress.

Work on the materials science of concrete is being performed by a research team called the Liquid Stone Team, which includes researchers from the departments of civil and environmental engineering, materials science and engineering, and nuclear science and engineering. The Liquid Stone Team is studying the basic molecular structure of cement in order to manipulate that structure to produce a “greener” concrete, possibly by swapping one chemical element for another to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing or by designing a stronger concrete that would require less material for construction projects.

In the building technology area, researchers involved with a project called the Edge of Concrete are developing a rigorous basis for quantifying the ecological and economic performance of concrete over the lifetime of structures and pavements built with this material, so that methods for improving concrete’s performance can be identified. The team includes researchers from the departments of architecture, civil and environmental engineering, and mechanical engineering.

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