Recent weeks have seen festive engineering in full swing as we constructed wrapping paper masterpieces, calculated how the turkey could fit in the oven and tested out our new gadgets.
The one thing that all our decorations, toys, and even the tape holding everything together, have in common is materials engineering. An often-underrated field, materials engineering brings together countless studies of the ‘stuff’ that makes up our world.
Many of the greatest challenges our world is facing are due to the limits of the materials we have available. By improving how existing materials work, and even creating new ones altogether, we can engineer our future. Throughout January, we are meeting the engineers and innovators who make it their job to get to the bottom of these problems.
A young student who designed a trophy that will be presented to some of the world’s leading engineers has been given a behind the scenes tour of BAE Systems’ advanced manufacturing site where the trophy will be made.
Samuel Bentley, 16, of Prestatyn, Wales, visited the New Product and Process Development Centre (NPPDC) at BAE Systems in Samlesbury, Lancashire, where the company is pioneering world-leading technology to revolutionise manufacturing of military aircraft.
Tiny sensors made of antibodies, protein nanospheres that can clean up toxic spills, and gels that could be injected into a wound to initiate healing are just a few of the innovations emerging from Bradley Olsen’s lab at MIT.
Olsen’s research is based on exploring the physical properties of new types of polymers, and taking advantage of those properties to design novel materials that could have many useful applications.
It’s not all Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompas you know. Designing chocolates is serious engineering. Just like when you made jelly as a child (or adult!), every chocolate shape is made by a mould and every mould is created by forming plastic around a metal ‘tool’. As a result, making ‘tooling’ is at the heart of the chocolate industry.
Leigh Down, Managing Director at DPS Designs, helped bring the M&S Easter egg ‘Bendy Bob’ to life. “As you can see from our bendy friend, it can be a lot of fun and be really creative,” he said. “But behind this fun stuff is a team of engineers who need to be able to make tooling to the nearest 10 micron. That’s about five times thinner than a strand of hair!”
The team at DPS Designs have been honing their craft for over 20 years. Based in the Forest of Dean, we pride ourselves on using creativity and innovation to create fun chocolates. We challenge you to name something that we haven’t worked out how to mould in chocolate!
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.