A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR SAYS HE BELIEVES that buildings will be safer if the bricks are smarter. “We are living with more and more smart electronics all around us, but we still live and work in fairly dumb buildings,” observes the University of Illinois Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology's Chang Liu.

The researcher and his colleagues have invented a “smart” brick, which is equipped with sensors and other electronic components designed to make structures safer. The sensors track temperature, vibration, and movement, employing wireless technology to deliver the data to a remote computer. Networks comprised of multiple bricks could monitor a building's structural stability during a fire, earthquake, or other disaster as well as identify walls in need of repair. Before the smart bricks make it into residential buildings, though, researchers want to compress the components onto a single chip adhered to flexible plastic to achieve versatility and resilience.