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?
Engineering often feels like something I stumbled upon accidentally, and it would be dishonest of me to say that I always knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Still, my chosen career path allows me to do what I have always been interested in: learning, solving problems, and helping people.
There was never one particular moment that inspired me to become a chemical engineer. Instead, I saw that becoming an engineer would open more doors than other careers would. Being an engineer meant I could work on anything and everything, and so far that has been true.
A brand new design could see cheap yet high-performance solar cells manufactured from everyday materials. Engineers at Stanford and Oxford universities have developed a new type of solar cell, which could even outperform traditional silicon cells.
Solar cells work by collecting light energy from the sun and converting it into an electrical current. In a conventional cell, a layer of silicon crystals absorbs light energy from the sun. This causes electrons to become excited to the point that they are ejected from the material. We can capture the resulting electric current for use as clean electricity.
A cross-section of bamboo, a naturally-occurring porous substance
In our competitive world, we are always looking for more efficient, sustainable and intelligent engineering solutions. We are searching for growth while operating in a resource-depleted, energy-constrained world. The ultimate aim is doing more with less. Many natural resources are reaching their peak in terms of cost or quality. The availability of these raw materials, coupled with the governmental push towards a low carbon economy, puts pressure on the manufacturing industry.
Researchers at MIT and other institutions have created tiny freeze-dried pellets that include all of the molecular machinery needed to translate DNA into proteins, which could form the basis for on-demand production of drugs and vaccines.
Currently most manufacturing techniques employ mass production processes. These methods produce standardised goods in large quantities and at low cost. In this way, industry can respond to demand by providing products at affordable prices. However, this method cannot provide goods to fit individual, unique consumers. This is particularly important when making products designed to fit with the human body.
When a customer requires a special size or variation of a product, parts must often be made as unique pieces, and even by hand. This increases the price of the item, making it inaccessible to many potential buyers.