60秒科学:Roman Builders May Have Copied Volcanic "Concrete"

60秒科学节目(SSS)是科学美国人网站的一套广播栏目,英文名称:Scientific American - 60 Second Science,节目内容以科学报道为主,节目仅一分钟的时间,主要对当今的科学技术新发展作以简明、通俗的介绍,对于科学的发展如何影响人们的生活环境、健康状况及科学技术,提供了大量简明易懂的阐释。

In 1982 the ground beneath the Italian port town of Pozzuoli, near Naples, began to swell. In the next two years, the town rose more than six feet. Rocks underground cracked under the strain, sparking tiny earthquakes. And some 40,000 residents were forced to evacuate. Tiziana Vanorio was one of them. 

"We were scared, not because of the earthquakes but because of the fear that an eruption was about to come." 

But that eruption never came. And Vanorio, who's now a geophysicist at Stanford University, wanted to find out how the rock endured the strain. So she and a postdoctoral student obtained rock cores from the Campi Flegrei Caldera, the volcanic area underlying Pozzuoli, taken just before the swelling in 1982. They discovered a layer of what’s called caprock, almost like a lid, that sealed off the caldera below. And the caprock's microstructure was an intricate network of mineral fibers—the key, she says, to its strength, and ability to flex under pressure. The findings are in the journal Science. [Tiziana Vanorio and Waruntorn Kanitpanyacharoen, Rock physics of fibrous rocks akin to Roman concrete explains uplifts at Campi Flegrei Caldera]

And that fibrous rock structure? Vanorio says it looked familiar—very similar to the famous ancient Roman concrete, used to build aqueducts and the Colosseum. And, similarly to concrete production, the caprock probably formed when lime-rich geothermal fluids percolated upward, mixing with the volcanic ash. 

It's probably no accident the Romans ended up with that same chemical recipe. "They were keen observers, they knew very well that the volcanic ash from that region was very special. And they also shipped the volcanic ash throughout the Mediterranean." 

And now that we're discovering these secrets, she says, we might do as the Romans, and emulate nature once again—to pave the way toward more durable, self-healing concrete. 

—Christopher Intagliata

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