Like a Rowing Stone

An unusual canoe competition in Madison, Wisconsin, floats the notion that concrete waives the rules

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At the end of the day, the Clemson crew has indeed prevailed. Gilbert credits its success to a flawless paddling technique and superior engineering. As the Clemson team accepts its trophy, I wonder what the native Ho-chunk Indians, who traversed the region’s waterways in dugout canoes almost two centuries ago, would have thought about this concrete model. I doubt they ever considered plastering an adhesive mixture of pebbles and lake silt to their keels.

Gilbert says the material’s versatility might one day yield concrete airplanes, submarines, clothing and sneakers. Before long, he says, flexible concrete spans will hold up earthquake-proof bridges. Self-healing concrete will repair chips and cracks in construction projects. "The new generation of concrete could be designed to act like rubber when it’s punctured," he says, evoking the image of a sidewalk that can fill its own cracks. But what really excites Gilbert is his belief that innovations like these may cement the University of Alabama’s sixth national championship.


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