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Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group


Cambridge research into self-healing concrete and other intelligent infrastructure materials has featured on BBC World News, BBC Breakfast and BBC Look East as part of a special programme.

Abir Al-Tabbaa, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, leads the Cambridge research team working on the EPSRC-funded Resilient Materials 4 Life (RM4L) project in collaboration with three other UK universities, as well as a large number of industry partners.

As part of a BBC Look East programme on the A14 upgrade (first broadcast on November 27, 2018), Professor Al-Tabbaa gave an interview on the importance of self-healing infrastructure materials and systems during a segment on ‘roads of the future’. These materials and systems have the ability to not only ‘sense’ damage, but can also self-diagnose and adapt to their environment, building stronger defence mechanisms against damage in the process. 

“Self-healing systems are very important because we spend a huge amount of money on maintaining our infrastructure such as roads, bridges, tunnels and embankments and there’s a huge amount of disruption associated with it,” Professor Al-Tabbaa told the BBC. “These materials have the ability to heal their own cracks; they sense damage and they repair themselves without any need for external intervention.”

Also interviewed as part of the programme were RM4L Research Associates Dr Livia Ribeiro de Souza and Dr Chrysoula Litina. They discussed microcapsule and vascular network self-healing systems and the commercial application of self-healing microcapsule-based concrete blocks.

Dr Ribeiro de Souza is researching capsules the size of sand grains designed to sit inside concrete. Any crack in the concrete will cause the microcapsules to split open, releasing a healing agent that then fixes the crack.

The RM4L research team are addressing a number of large and significant challenges as they make major advances in the realisation of intelligent infrastructure materials. Challenges include the tailoring, modelling and optimisation of the developed self-healing systems for targeted applications, which include precast slabs, repair systems, tunnel linings, basements and marine renewables.

Watch the video and read more here.