Science of innovation: smart concrete

OverpassScientists and engineers don’t necessarily start out to innovate, but unexpected things happen! This installment of the “Science of Innovation” video series describes how Dr. Deborah Chung, an expert in composite materials and structural science, was more-or-less “messing around” with materials just to see what would result. What Dr. Chung found could have a dramatic impact on bridge, road, and building construction.

You can set the stage for your students to be similarly inspired by allowing them to “mess around” with materials you have available as they develop and refine their own questions for investigation. Doing so might conjure up scenes of chaos, but teachers who build in a little extra time for students to examine the available materials and fiddle around with them find that it actually conjures up more thoughtful explorations!

The connected lesson plans, loosely based on Brian Hand’s science writing heuristic, allow plenty of leeway for students to put their inspirations to work. This STEMspirational series, developed by the team of NBC Learn, USPTO, NSF, and NSTA, will give you a leg up in incorporating authentic engineering activities into your curriculum. And it will allow students to see how science and math knowledge result in incredible technologies. The series is available cost-free on,, and Take a look, and then let us know what you think!

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Image of overpass courtesy of Danielle Scott.


SOI: Smart Concrete highlights Dr. Deborah Chung’s innovation that makes concrete able to sense, in real time, the forces to which it is subjected.

Lesson plans

Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding the characteristics of materials. Both include strategies to support students in their own quest for answers and strategies for a more focused approach that helps all students participate in hands-on inquiry.

SOI: Smart Concrete, A Science Perspective models how students might investigate a question about how a composite such as concrete reacts to compressional forces.

SOI: Smart Concrete, An Engineering Perspective shows how students might make and test a composite that models smart concrete.

You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans: [contact-form 2 “ChemNow]

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