Muhammed Basheer's work has taken him on a journey from India to Belfast and back again many times. He and his team are now world leaders in the technology of concrete structures, how to test them and how to monitor changes, and there has been a particular impact in China.
Muhammed Basheer had more than a passing interest as he watched the Beijing Olympics on television three years ago. He was aware that technology and instruments developed by him and his colleagues at Queen's had contributed to the successful building of the concrete structure that has become one of the 21st century's most iconic images, the Bird's Nest Stadium.
He says, "I became interested in the durability of concrete back in India when I was a student doing masters research. The monsoon weather causing concrete roofs to leak was the starting point. I wanted to know if it was possible to manufacture concrete that was leak-proof. At first I thought high-strength concrete might be the answer but it wasn't. Then I began to ask why it was permeable."
He contacted Queen's, which is known for its structures research, about the possibility of carrying on his work there. He came to Belfast in 1987 and is now Chair of Structural Materials.
At first Muhammed Basheer worked on a project commissioned by the NI Roads Service. The aim was to find out which technology is the most appropriate for manufacturing concrete that is less porous, to see how it can be protected by applying surface treatment and to develop a device to measure the permeability of concrete on site. It was this measuring device, developed successfully, that was eventually to be used to test the concrete of the Olympic stadium.
He says, "Currently I have two EPSRC projects related to testing concrete structures. One focuses on durability, to develop performance specification which will help us make structures last longer. The second is to see how these technologies can become widely known in China and elsewhere."
That latter project is being achieved in part through the UK-China Science Bridge, transferring technology between the two countries. "We have conducted seminars and workshops for engineers and researchers in China and we have had similar conferences in Belfast. What we want to do next is come up with an arrangement with India and the Middle East, two regions where there is a huge problem with durability."
Queen's is now a world leader, a recognised Centre of Excellence. "The University has always been recognised for its work in structures but now it is also recognised for materials research. For the past 10 years we have been one amongst the top in the area of concrete durability."
As well as the Olympic stadium, other Chinese projects where the test instruments and sensors have been used include nuclear power stations and bridges in the country's highways programme. The commercial spread of the equipment and sensors, made in Belfast, is in the hands of two "spin-out" Queen's companies which have established a worldwide distribution network.
And the work goes on. "In 2005 I suggested that we start an MSc programme on the durability of structures. That now exists, however, I am now also suggesting an MSc in sustainable concrete engineering. The industry is crying out for this, to help reduce the environmental impact of structures. Working with the industry, you continually see the issues which are faced and we must be able to modify the direction of our research in order to help."
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