16 Apr

Erik Schlangen: A “self-healing” asphalt

(A shorter post this evening)

This week I have the joy of wearing a different hat in the evenings while being the asm for a great community theater show continuing into it’s second week.  Young Frankenstein!


(The hours are long, the work both tedious and exhausting, the cast and crew are gigantic, meaning standard politics and group dynamics apply, and I get zero pay.  It’s still worth it)

However, on this past Saturday I had the notion of doing a quick shopping run for some things before that evening’s program.  I had approximately three hours left in the day and I made a quick assessment.  It would take approximately a half hour to drive the distance, maybe twenty minutes at the store, and a half hour back, which should have been plenty of time to make the show.

Much to my surprise, the main road to the highway was backed up by a hundred cars due to road construction.  I navigated around and took the side routes (these were also “busy” but I had expectation it would clear up) only to encounter additional slowdowns due to even MORE road construction.  And this happened repeatedly.

Long story short, I never completed my shopping task.  At the hour and twenty mark I had to turn back to ensure I’d make that evening’s start time, all the while grumbling and mentally dissecting the problems of traffic congestion.

What is the deal with road construction?  Admittedly enough, it is the start of spring and it’s time for these projects to bloom like dandelions on a lawn but this was ridiculous.

The traffic flow design, had failed me.  I was unable to reach my destination (within the time limit that I had), what could have stopped this?

In the land of Ted Talks, this could have helped enormously.

Speaker: Erik Schlangen

Total Video Time: 6 minutes, 50 seconds

SELF HEALING ASPHALT.  Why isn’t this stuff everywhere already?

To be honest, the first few minute and a half is exactly what I look like whenever I cook dinner.  It’s just as dangerous, and what comes out of the microwave looks exactly like a brick of asphalt.

Just trust me when I say it tastes better than it looks.

Now memory metal has been around for a while and this demonstration immediately made me think of that.  Effectively, like the T-1000 from the Terminator movies, it’s a metal that reshapes itself back into it’s original ‘shaped’ form when heat is applied.  However, in Schlangen’s demonstration he actually ‘splits’ the block and mentions it needs to be cooled so it’s obviously not that.

In any case, you can learn more about the metal here:

A quick video too:

So if this asphalt isn’t made up of memory metal, then what the heck?  Is it really something as simple as steel wool?  Can tiny steel wool fibers really provide that much strength to something as porous as asphalt?

Obviously, as due to the experiment revealed, the answer is yes.  He microwaves the asphalt for only two minutes AND UNLIKE when I cook, the microwave did not explode nor did any fire alarms set off.  This tells me that the overall temperature isn’t excessively hot and the steel wool’s heat related expansion/contraction probably realigns it in a way similar to velcro.

Of course, this is simply my conjecture and a made up way of describing it that makes easy sense (and VERY likely all wrong) and the real science can be found elsewhere.

Schlangen’s paper describing the process and materials, can be found here: (7 Mb file)

I really look forward to the day where ideas like these are implemented in everyday use.

Maybe by then, I’ll have learned how to properly use a microwave.

Drive safe and share,


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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in TED Talks


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