Bet you can't step on just one crack

"Potato chip flavoring boosts longevity of concrete" reads a headline coming across the Booster Shot desk this morning.

An unusual use for food product -- but then again, perhaps no more unusual than shampooing with beer or dyeing with beet juice. Wouldn't you like to know more?

Turns out that researchers at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan, have found that painting a solution of a certain potato-chip flavoring onto newly poured concrete allows tiny crystals of it to form inside the natural pores of the concrete surface, protecting it.

When water seeps into concrete, it causes crumbling and cracking. Or, as our Jordanian chemists put it, "Although water is very important to concrete during the hardening stages, it is considered to be an undesirable substance."

But the chip-flavoring crystals are hygroscopic, meaning they swell when exposed to moisture. After a single wetting, they block the concrete pores and prevent more water from trickling through.

And the treatment is environmentally friendly (other concrete sealers are prepared with toxic solvents, whereas chemicals you can put in your mouth are usually pretty safe, relatively speaking).

Overall, it's a great day for preventive concrete maintenance. But if visions of a sour-cream-and-onion driveway or of barbecue sauce slathered over a slab of sidewalk are dancing through your head, you may be disappointed. The flavor, it turns out, is sodium acetate. Which is not that different from sodium chloride -- a pretty boring food, let's face it -- or from sodium silicate, which is what engineers use now, albeit with more environmental concerns.

-- Chelsea Martinez

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