EARTH »

[21 Jun 2011 | One Comment | 10,066 views]
TAKTL: Ultra High Performance Concrete

When the Romans were messing around with chemicals and rocks, looking for something that would allow them to construct barrel vaults and the odd aqueduct, I doubt they imagined that unreinforced concrete could one day achieve a level of refinement that would make the supremely elegant (late) Princess Grace look like a bit of a pig.

Image courtesy newcritic.com
But yes, the day has dawned: TAKTL is a new ultra high performance concrete (UHPC) with seemingly “unlimited potential in the architecture, landscape and product design industries” (Source: TAKTL).  This new material is similar to GFRC (Glass Fiber …

METAL, WATER »

[17 Jun 2011 | One Comment | 4,514 views]
Reynobond with Ecoclean: Smog-eating Metal Cladding

When I sat down to write this post I realized that it’s the 100th installment of materials information that I have submitted to the Interwebs, which, if this were a sitcom, would mean that I’d have a sheet cake with “Congratulations – 100 Posts!!!!” written in frosting set set out on a table, and the key grip would be elbowing the best boy out of the way for the corner piece with the biggest frosted rose on it.

Image courtesy ursulinesmsj.org
But since there’s no cake, I’m going to write about a …

METAL, WATER »

[14 Jun 2011 | No Comment | 2,356 views]
Metals that go from Hard to Soft on Command! (No Jokes, Please)

“The firmness of a boiled egg can be adjusted at will through the cooking time. Some decisions are, however, irrevocable – a hard-boiled egg can never be reconverted into a soft-boiled one. There would be less annoyance at the breakfast table if we could simply switch back and forth between the different degrees of firmness of the egg.
Similar issues arise in the making of structural materials such as metals and alloys. The materials properties are set once and for all during production. This forces …

WOOD »

[8 Jun 2011 | No Comment | 5,917 views]
Tensotherm with Nanogel: for Light, Insulated Tensile Roof Structures

Despite the fact that I usually run away screaming when faced with difficult calculations, I loved my structures classes in school. I liked building and destroying model bridges and learning how to manage earthquakes, but what I loved the most was thinking about tension and compression because I could feel those forces act on my body.
No really – it isn’t like learning about the War of Jenkins Ear, where you have to imagine being alive in the 1700’s and fighting with a large group of Spanish and British soldiers and …

EARTH, FIRE »

[3 Jun 2011 | One Comment | 6,361 views]
Glowcrete: Luminescent Concrete by Vergelabs

There’s something magic about things that glow – they’re suprising and delightful.  Think of that moment at the aquarium when you turn a corner and encounter a darkened tank illuminated by a school of luminous fish darting hither and yon, or nights spent staring up at a bedroom ceiling covered with constellations of glowing stick-on stars.
VergeLabs, an architecture and design practice based in the United Arab Emirates founded as a partnership between Ginger Krieg Dosier and Michael Dosier, brought some of that magic to concrete with their development of Glowcrete.

Image courtesy Vergelabs
The researchers used phosphorescent …

FIRE »

[31 May 2011 | No Comment | 4,435 views]
Material Animation: ETH Experiments with Electroluminescent Foil

If you were laboring under the misapprehension that it might be safe to take off your protective brain-encapsulation helmet, don’t: the 2010/11 MAS class at the chair for CAAD, ETH Zürich, supervised and tutored by Manuel Kretzer and Ruairi Glynn and supported through Lumitec AG and Ulano Corp, have been working on a new project that has the potential to blow your mind.  Last October I wrote about Shape Shift, the group’s experiment with a electro-active polymers (read more here), and if you enjoyed that project the odds …

WOOD »

[25 May 2011 | No Comment | 2,245 views]
Durable Tape Seals Exterior Joints across Uneven Surfaces

When I was younger I would occasionally catch a show on PBS imported from Canada called the Red Green Show.  I’m not really sure what it was about exactly, but it featured a gruff, scratchy-voiced Canadian named Red Green, who attempted to solve all of his problems with duct tape.  All of them.  For instance, I seem to recall an episode in which Red Green taped the bumper back on his van when it fell off, and he probably used the same roll to install a basketball hoop in his backyard, albeit temporarily – the …

FIRE »

[22 May 2011 | No Comment | 2,720 views]
Get the Glow: Duo-Gard Lumenatrix Backlighting System

I have a secret theory, based on anecdotal evidence supplied by my over-active imagination, that glowing architectural surfaces encourage people to spend more money.  I wonder why glowing, shiny objects are so alluring to human beings? It’s not like we have gizzards.  At any rate, if glowing surfaces do encourage people to open their wallets and part with the brass, it is quite a good thing because artificially illuminated glowing architectural surfaces cost a great deal to construct AND require supermegakilotons of energy to run.

Image courtesy thenewyorkgreenadvocate.blogspot.com
The Lumenatrix Backlighting System …

FIRE, WOOD »

[11 May 2011 | No Comment | 2,816 views]
Want to Wear your Kindle? E-ink can Now Print on Cloth!

Most of the time reading ebooks on my phone or tablet makes me happy as a lark, and I love that these devices can do a million things AND store all my books. In fact, there is only one circumstance related to the consumption of ebooks that prevents me from skipping about gaily with a song on my lips: reading books on my phone makes me irritatingly pale.  First, may I say that I am aware that the sun is evil and that reading by the pool without wearing copious …

FIRE, WOOD »

[2 May 2011 | One Comment | 4,515 views]
New Color-changing Microsensor Material Detects Volatile Organic Compounds

When I think about a gas mask, for some reason my mind flits to a memory of a series of drawings by British sculptor Henry Moore, which I encountered at the Hirshorn while wandering through the Smithsonian one afternoon during college. The London Underground functioned as a shelter during WWII, and Moore made a series of dark gray moody drawings that convey his experiences sleeping in the tunnels along with thousands of other Londoners at the height of the Blitz.  I’m not really sure if any of the drawings actually depicted people wearing gas masks, but that feeling …

FIRE »

[27 Apr 2011 | No Comment | 2,736 views]
MIT Scientists Enlist an Army of Viruses to Improve Solar Cell Efficiency

For a long time I believed all viruses to be evil due to their pernicious habits: causing common colds, infecting people and spreading influenza and other viral diseases, and wiping out hard drives with grim efficiency.  A group of researchers at MIT decided to give viruses a chance to show a softer side, and they found out that “going viral” can benefit solar cell technology by improving its efficiency by one third.
Scientists have been working with carbon nanotubes (essentially, rolled up sheets of graphene) to encourage solar cells to convert …

EARTH, WOOD »

[21 Apr 2011 | 2 Comments | 5,538 views]
Stronger than Kevlar: Plastic Reinforced with Nanocellulose Fibers from Pineapples!

It’s always a shock to find out that something you thought you made up is actually (or at least mostly) true.  Take the post I wrote for April Fool’s Day about a new plastic made from pulverized Tulip leaves: I thought that heating and then pulverizing plant fibers into a fine powder and suspending them in a polymer matrix to make a super-strong material was a crazy idea of my own making that sounded faintly feasible.  As it turns out, Brazilian researchers at Sao Paulo State University are at this very moment working on a new plastic …

Uncategorized »

[20 Apr 2011 | No Comment | 2,412 views]
QuaDror: A Brand New Geometry for Twenty-first Century Materials

If you’ve been to Disney World or were alive in the 1960’s, you’re likely well aware of the work of Buckminster Fuller, a designer, architect, engineer, globalist, and mathematician who (among a wide variety of other activities) developed geodesic spheres, structures whose geometry engendered great strength without much mass.  I made it down to the World of Disney in college, and while riding the escalator up into Epcot I remember thinking the building was radical, but that was because of the geometry – not because of the …

METAL, WOOD »

[12 Apr 2011 | No Comment | 2,579 views]
NASA’s “Magic Skin” for Airplanes Could Improve Building Envelope Tech

Most buildings don’t fly – well, I suppose that somewhere there may be some that do – but for the most part our built environment tends to touch down in one place and stay there.  In contrast, airplanes carry large groups of people at high speed, hurtling through the air over great distances; and the design of a plane must overcome a host of messy, complicated issues relating to flight with which your house or office building will never contend. Modern airplanes, like modern buildings, are functional and getting the job done, but I think …

FIRE »

[5 Apr 2011 | One Comment | 3,479 views]
Power your Home – Turn Over a New (Solar Cell) Leaf!

Here in the northern hemisphere (especially here in the lower latitudes) Winter is receding and Spring is hopping in on little rabbit feet.  What this means, of course, is that we’re all sneezing, snuffling, and sniffling due to the staggering amount of pollen flying around in the air we breathe.  Through a fuzzy haze of allergy medication, my itchy red eyes are finally able to gaze at blooming flowers and gorgeous green leaves emerging at last from miniscule buds on tree branches.  The leaves are gearing up to perform the hard work of converting light energy into food – a task they …

WOOD »

[29 Mar 2011 | 2 Comments | 3,850 views]
TimberSIL GlassWood: Long-lasting Non-Toxic Wood Infused with Glass

In ninth grade English class I was forced to read a book called Frankenstein, which I found horrifying not only because it chronicled the slow march to destruction of a hideous, emotionally overwrought monster created out of various bits and pieces of the recently deceased, but also because the denouement takes place up at the north pole. In my imagination the north pole is bitterly cold and dark, full of craggy icebergs, ancient snow, and super predators including walruses with pointy tusks, hungry polar bears, and ferocious cold-adapted velociraptors.

Image courtesy mirror.uncyc.org
In the case of Frankenstein’s monster, manufacturing a …

WOOD »

[24 Mar 2011 | No Comment | 3,658 views]
A Machine that Converts Plastic Bags back into Usable Oil

Sometimes I think that discarded plastic bags have the same kind of dangerous beauty as poisonous tree frogs, toxic waste, or Courtney Love. Have you ever spotted a lone grocery store bag tumbling down the road or lodged in the topmost branches of a tree? They tend to billow and pulse with currents of air, and to produce subtle crackling noises like a slow-burning fire. But most of the time I don’t feel poetic, and it just seems like trash is everywhere around us and I grow disheartened.

Image courtesy dartfrog.co.uk
As it turns out, there …

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