Did you know that concrete is the most popular synthetic material in the world? You’d think that it’s plastic, steel, or aluminum, but this is farther from the truth. You see, thousands of years ago, humans used to build civilizations, but then we forgot how to make concrete. After that, we’ve rediscovered its importance and have since been making them stronger than ever.
Of course, when we’re thinking about concrete the first things that come to mind are swimming pools, pavements, and foundations. Many of us don’t realize that they have a volcanic origin to which makes up $100 billion dollar industry. All in all, concrete is more on demand than any other material on Earth.
Unlike plastic, steel or aluminum, concrete isn’t made up of just one material. In fact, concrete is a combination of gravel and rocks. Along with that is an adhesive material that keeps it together. In a sense, concrete is nothing more than just water and cement that forms a rock jello that can take the shape of almost anything.
At the height of the Roman empire, military commerce and activity were buzzing around town. Each day, vessels left Pozzuoli with useful things like weapons, iron, grains, and pozzolana which is an ashy sand found at Campi Flegrei which is a nearby supervolcano.
Why were they collecting volcanic spews? It turns out that these sands were unique as it can bind rocks to something heavy-duty. As described by Roman philosopher, Seneca, the dust “becomes stone if it touches the water.”
Today cement is the adhesive that sticks the world in place. It’s formed the basis of grout, stucco, mortar and concrete. Of course, today’s concrete is added with a touch of Roman innovation which is an addition of iron oxides and aluminum. This creates strength and gives way for calcium silicates to form when low temperatures.