Engineers at Columbia University in New York have discovered a new way to create super-strong materials, taking their inspiration from nature.
The shimmering, iridescent coating on the inside of some sea shells is called ‘nacre’ or ‘mother of pearl’. A naturally occurring composite material, nacre is made up of calcium carbonate and protein. Its rigid structure makes shells resistant to cracking, protecting the soft molluscs inside.
Hexagonal plates of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate, are arranged into continuous sheets that are stacked on top of one another. Sandwiched in between each brittle sheet is a thin layer of chitin, an elastic ‘biopolymer’ made from protein. Together, this ‘brick and mortar’ construction gives oysters extraordinary mechanical properties, such as great strength and resilience.
Inspired by insect wings that kill bacteria on contact, Indian researchers have developed a method to treat the surface of titanium orthopaedic implants at nano-scales so that they resist bacterial infection — a complication that often develops following surgery.
Orthopaedic implants like hip joints, knee joints, plates and screws can be treated to resist bacteria without the use of antibiotics, says a paper published online in Scientific Reports (23 January).
People around the world throw away more than 1.3 billion tonnes of out-of-date food each year. At Fresh Check, we’re guilty of wasting both food and money by throwing away food that is past its use-by date. In fact, almost everyone we’ve spoken to has walked the fine line between saving money and food poisoning a few times, or at least had an argument about it with their families, friends or flatmates! The same is certainly true for us, and it was from this frustration that Fresh Check was born.
Our simple technology started as a smart solution to detect food spoilage which centred on visualising harmful bacterial contamination with a blue to orange colour change. The material remains blue in safe settings and turns orange in areas that might cause harm. Since developing the initial technology our product and business model have grown and changed, but we’ve always stuck to the detection of poor hygiene. Now we look not only at food packaging, but have developed a blue to orange colour-changing spray for use in restaurants, hospitals, food producing plants and at home, to warn users of any health risks.
“Don’t play with your food” is a saying that MIT researchers are taking with a grain or two of salt. The team is finding ways to make the dining experience interactive and fun, with food that can transform its shape when water is added.
Sean Gallagher is a senior additive manufacture development engineer at BAE Systems and a QEPrize Ambassador. We spoke to him to find out a little more about what additive manufacturing really is, and how it can revolutionise design and engineering in the world of aerospace.
What is additive manufacturing and how does it help?
Additive manufacture, or 3D printing, is still a relatively new technology, which has grown massively in the last decade. The growing availability of new metallic and plastic materials continues to develop the scope of the technology, and therefore the impact it can have.
Whilst still supporting modelling and rapid prototyping to help us speed up design development, we can now start to develop products which are more fit for purpose. These can be made quicker, are lighter and often cheaper than conventional methods would allow. All of this means we can be more adaptable to meet our customer’s needs, using a technology that allows us to be more responsive and affordable than ever before.
When it comes to building, an awful lot of material goes to waste, both at the birth and death of a project. In fact, the construction industry sends millions of tonnes of waste to landfill every year, at a huge cost to itself.
In addition to this, new laws mean that by 2020 70% of all construction and demolition waste in UK must be recycled, while none will be allowed to go to landfill. This, coupled with the cost of waste disposal, has set the construction industry on the hunt for materials that are both good for the environment and good for their bottom lines.
Dr Sam Chapman and his spin-out KENOTEQ think they have the solution to just such a problem.
In our consumer-driven society, we have become removed from craft. The products we rely on are built in huge factories far away. Can a sense of craftsmanship be reintroduced into a 21st century domestic setting? What might this look like?
Materials such as polymers can be highly adaptable, but their applications are often limited. As a design engineer, I saw the potential to create a material system that could be customised and crafted by the end user. Initially, I observed the relationship between materials, tools, instructions and the time involved in traditional crafts, like wood working. These often result in changing a material permanently after cutting. Considering that the user might not have expertise in such fields, I wanted to develop a material that could accommodate the learning process by being reversible. The key to the success of the system would be how easy it is to achieve an aesthetically pleasing and functional end product. The result is a reversible ‘plug and play’ material system.
Since its invention in the early 1960s, engineers have fought to improve the design and function of the silicon chip. The building blocks of modern computing, each chip has a circuit etched into its silicon crystal surface. These intricate circuits conduct electricity, switching it on and off to produce a series of ones and zeros. The code can then be used to represent pictures, music and even movies in digital form.
Chipmakers have battled for fifty years to boost their chips power, all the while shrinking them in size. As our demand for smaller devices grows, could the solution lie in a radical move away from silicon?