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Mosa'ab Elshamy / AP

Concrete used by the Romans to build their cliff-side cities, bridges and sea walls more than two thousand years ago have withstood time and still stand strong today, while modern concrete exposed to seawater deteriorates within decades.

Now researchers may have figured out what has made Roman concrete so durable, and the University of Utah's Marie Jackson thinks she might be able to recreate it, per the Washington Post. The Roman's secret: the concrete contains tiny crystals that keep it from fracturing.

Why it matters: If successful, the concrete could be used to make sea walls that can protect shoreline environments from flooding and rising seas.

The findings, as detailed by WaPo:

  • Jackson and her colleagues learned that Roman concrete behaves "in many ways, like volcanic deposits in submarine environments." It is filled with tiny growing crystals that act "like tiny armor plates" and keep the concrete from fracturing.
  • A series of tests run by Jackson's team revealed that the aluminous tobermorite crystals were created from a chemical reaction: when seawater flooded through the cracks in the concrete, it reacted with a mineral known as phillipsite found naturally in the volcanic rock.

What's next: "The Romans mined a specific type of volcanic ash from a quarry in Italy" writes WaPo. "Jackson is attempting to recreate this durable concrete using San Francisco seawater and more abundant volcanic rocks. She has several samples sitting in ovens and jars in her lab, which she will test for evidence of similar chemical reactions."

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

10 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.