Better Roads Staff
MEMS merge the functions of sensing and actuating with computation and communication to locally control physical parameter at the micro-scale, yet cause effects at much grander scales, they observe. MEMS as devices have static or movable components with some dimensions on the scale of a micrometer, and can be either sensors, actuators or passive structures.
“Sensors are transducers that convert mechanical, thermal or other forms of energy into electrical energy; actuators do the exact opposite,” Wang and Li write. “Passive structures are devices in which no transducing occurs. A fourth classification, hybrid systems, is used for specialized applications. Micromachining and integrated circuit technologies are the foundation of sensors and actuators as well as of MEMS or microsystems.”
MEMS produce smart materials and structures technology, and their applications include structural control, condition or health monitoring, damage assessment, structural repair, integrity assessment and more recently in asset management, preservation and operation of civil infrastructure, they write. “The potential benefit here is improved system reliability, longevity, enhanced system performance, improved safety against natural hazards and vibrations, and a reduction in lifecycle cost in operating and managing the infrastructure. There is no doubt MEMS can . . . assist engineers in infrastructure management to have real-time or quasi-real-time information on the health of the infrastructure.”
In bridges, MEMS technologies are well-suited to improve the performance, size and cost of sensing systems, they say. “MEMS can be used in both monitoring and testing of transportation infrastructure systems,” they write, adding applications in bridge engineering are underway.
In pavements, MEMS have the capability of supplementing, if not replacing, nondestructive testing of pavement condition, they suggest. “Recently, vigorous efforts have been devoted into developing sensing technologies and nano-technology in infrastructure condition monitoring,” write Wang and Li. For crack monitoring purposes, a MEMS transducer has been developed for an ultrasonic flaw detection system, which can be used to detect the initiation of a crack.
Also, networks of nanosensors embedded in roadways could provide real-time information to better manage congestion and incidents, or to detect and warn drivers about fast-changing environmental conditions such as fog and ice. “In recent years, more and more attention has been paid to MEMS-based moisture sensors,” they write. It’s clear that MEMS will play a big role in the intelligent highway systems of the future.
Nanotechnology is leading to self-cleansing signs. The so-called “lotus effect” – which describes the self-cleansing surface of the lotus leaf, which takes place at the molecular level – is being replicated in lotus effect-based self-cleansing nano materials into traffic and work zone signage, and in particular traffic-control devices, which require labor-intensive periodic washing to remove road grime and enhance visibility.
“On a hydrophobic, easy-clean surface, particles of dirt are just moved around by moving water, but on a lotus-effect surface, dirt and grime are collected by water drops and rinse off,” Wang and Li write. “Coatings that mimic the properties of the lotus leaf may well lead to signs that shed dirt and never need washing.”
Thin Film Technologies
Nanoscale research could lead to an increased use of recycled materials in pavements through a better understanding of bonding of different materials, and the design of very thin coatings to optimize use of reclaimed materials.
In their 2010 Transportation Research Board paper, New Possibilities and Future Pathways of Nanoporous Thin Film Technology to Improve Concrete Performance, Jose F. Muñoz of the Department of Material Science and Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Richard C. Meininger and Jack Youtcheff of the Pavement Materials and Construction Team at FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, find that nanoporous thin films (NPTFs) may improve the interfaces between aggregate and cement paste.
“Aggregates are often considered as inexpensive inert filler material in concrete,” the authors write. “However, the mixture of the aggregate with the cement paste creates one of the most vulnerable areas of concrete, the interface of aggregate and cement paste. The judicious application of nanoporous thin films on the aggregate’s surface is an effective way to improve those interfaces.”
The most recent work on concrete shows that the use of different types of NPTF can induce changes in different properties of concrete or in an aggregate’s mineralogy, the researchers say. The observed improvements in mechanical properties such as compressive, flexural and tensile strengths, modulus of elasticity and drying shrinkage can ameliorate longitudinal and transverse cracking, corner breaks, punchouts and D-cracking, they write.
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