Cutting-edge advances in materials are opening up vast new opportunities in engineering, science and design. From self-healing concrete to edible packaging, here are seven remarkable materials and how they could affect our world.
Materials science continues to develop new substances with remarkable attributes, as well as inventive new combinations of traits. Sophisticated new materials are already playing a major role in engineering, medicine, science, design and manufacturing, as well as in everyday life.
Here we highlight some new and inventive materials that are bringing science fiction closer to reality.
Developed by Ross Nanotechnology, NeverWet is a super-hydrophobic coating capable of repelling water, heavy oils and other sticky, viscous fluids. Liquids bead and roll off surfaces coated with NeverWet, meaning that clothing and even electronics -- such as cell phones and cameras -- could potentially be rendered waterproof. Apart from the obvious applications for waterproofing and stain resistance, the material could also find use as an antibacterial coating, an icing repellent and as protection against corrosion.
Source: Wired.com's Gadget LabSelf-Healing Concrete
As with all construction materials, concrete eventually deteriorates over time, resulting in costly maintenance work and potentially hazardous scenarios. However, scientists at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom are now developing a type of self-healing concrete, which relies on a ground-borne bacteria - bacilli megaterium - to block the concrete's pores. This organic substance is a crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, which can keep out water and other damaging substances to prolong the life of concrete and reduce costs by enabling construction material to repair itself.
"The bacteria is grown on a nutrient broth of yeast, minerals and urea and is then added to the concrete. With its food source in the concrete, the bacteria breeds and spreads, acting as a filler to seal the cracks and prevent further deterioration," according to an announcement of the project. "It is hoped the research could lead to a cost-effective cure for 'concrete cancer' and has enormous commercial potential."
Also known as "frozen smoke," aerogel is a powerful insulator produced through the supercritical drying of liquid gels of alumina, chromia, tin oxide or carbon. It looks transparent and can block extreme heat and cold. Materials in the aerogel category contain extraordinarily high surface areas within their internal fractal structures, with a 1-inch cube of aerogel capable of having an internal surface area equivalent to a football field. Despite its low density, aerogel is also extremely strong and is being considered as a component in military armor.
Source: Lifeboat Foundation
2-D Graphene Bilayers
Graphene is considered a wonder material that could make computers faster and mobile devices smaller when current silicon microchip technology hits a wall, but putting graphene in a microchip has traditionally proven difficult. Now, researchers from Penn State University have combined a two-atom-thick layer of graphene with a nano-scale hexagonal boron layer to create a two-dimensional bilayer. This bilayer can be used to fabricate wafer-scale transistors, effectively integrating graphene to make electronics considerably more powerful and efficient.
"Building on their earlier work with epitaxial graphene, which had already increased transistor performance by 2-3 times, this research adds a further 2-3x improvement in performance and shows the strong potential for utilizing graphene in electronics," according to a release from Penn State. "In the near future, the Penn State team hopes to demonstrate graphene-based integrated circuits and high-performance devices suitable for industrial-scale manufacturing on 100mm wafers."
When tension is placed on ordinary materials, they expand along the direction of the applied force. But researchers from Northwestern University have designed amazing new metamaterials that go against every expectation: they expand when they should contract and contract when they should expand. Although still theoretical, these designs should work in principle because artificial materials can be created to exhibit a phase transition in which they contract under tension or expand when pressured.
"These metamaterials may enable new applications, including the development of new protective mechanical devices and actuators, and the enhancement of microelectromechanical systems," according to an announcement of the findings. "The materials also exhibit force amplification, a phenomenon in which a small increase in deformation leads to an abrupt increase in the response force. The latter can be useful for the design of micromechanical controls, ratchets and force amplifiers."
Source: New Scientist
In an innovative leap forward in protective clothing design, Dow Corning has developed Deflexion, a special textile material that incorporates silicone and provides versatile impact protection. Unlike standard body armor, Deflexion is flexible, breathable, washable and sewable, and has already been used in a variety of forms ranging from skateboarding shoes to rodeo vests.
Its key feature is adaptability: under normal conditions it remains as light and flexible as regular fabric, but during impact it hardens instantly to shield the wearer, and then returns to being flexible after impact. The material can also be padded to provide extra protection in certain areas, such as elbows or knees, and it has high potential for protecting electronics.
In an effort to help deal with mounting waste problems, particularly excess packaging, a Harvard professor recently created WikiCells, a form of edible packaging for food and beverages. This material imitates natural packaging by enclosing food and liquid in an edible membrane composed of a charged polymer and food particles. The membrane is protected by an outer hard shell that can be broken like an eggshell.
"Edwards and his team have thus far developed a variety of different platforms for WikiCells, which can be served as meals, drinks and snacks," the Harvard Crimson explains. "Edwards described a few of the WikiCells that his team has created: a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup that can be poured over bread, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that you can drink with a straw, smaller grape-like membrane holding wine and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate."
Source: Fast Company's Co.Exist