Nanoscaleresearch could soon make it possible to produce even stronger steel columnsthan are already achievable.

Structural steel is a preferred building material for many high-load situations, thanks to its high levels of strength and resistance to deformation.

However, like any other material, there are limits to the forces structural steel can withstand before it becomes deformed – either through twisting, buckling, or some other inelastic change in shape.

Now scientists at the Carnegie Institution have studied materials at a smaller level than ever before, to understand when the change in shape is due to changes in the structure of the individual ‘grains’ within the material, and when it is because of those grains moving with respect to one another.

Their findings were surprising – revealing that much smaller particles within the grains can be responsible for deformation than was previously thought, and that motion between the grains may be less widely responsible.

While the studies are only a first hint at what is taking place on a nanoscale, they are a step along the road towards stronger steel columns in the years to come, making this already popular building material even better for the generations to come.