A group of MIT scientists have created a new material that can be both a mirror and a window, and no it's not a one-way mirror.
This new material can filter light depending on the direction of the light beams. In the image above light that hits from one angle goes straight through (white beam) but light that hits the material at different angle is reflected back (red beam). For designers it might make for interesting new tricks for walls or new forms of windows.
To filter light one must alter either it's frequency or polarization. In terms of frequency, stained glass windows are a good example, where the glass lets specific wavelengths pass through.
Polarized glasses, like the 3D glasses you wear at the movies, are able to let light through that oscillates in a specific way. But the idea of filtering light based on the direction it comes from has always been tough.
One of the most popular wearable medical inventions so far might be the Band-Aid. A flexible strip that heals our cuts and burns and yet never slows us down. Well imagine if the band-aid could diagnose a problem and release therapeutic drugs hidden inside nanoparticles.
This is the new domain of a flexible very thin medical wearable under development by Korean researchers. And it gives a solid glimpse into our personalized medical future, and the future of wearable design.
The idea is that one day—in as little as five years—we'll have diagnostics and medical therapies delivered through devices that are as simple to wear as "a child's temporary tattoo," said Dae-Hyeong Kim, one of the researchers.
Wearable devices today are bulky, cold, obtrusive and impersonal. The future designs, like this proven patch, are intended to be nearly invisible to everyone including the wearer themselves.
Nanoscale membranes embedded into a stretchable, sticky fabric can detect tiny movements, deliver drugs and store all the necessary data. Now, this hasn't been tested on human patients yet, just pig skin. Their results are published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Graphene + Copper (not to scale, obviously)
About a year ago, I traveled to Cornell University to interview a bunch of materials scientists who work at the nanoscale level. This means they work with stuff that is very, very tiny. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. One of the challenges nearly all of the scientists kept mentioning is the issue of overheating in electronics. Most of us are directly familiar with the heat released from our computers when we balance them on our lap for a period of time, for example. And this becomes a big deal as devices get smaller and smaller. The smaller the copper wires—which connect chips, among other things—the more heat they emit. This is important for future devices and wearables.
Scientists are exploring all kinds of solutions but a proven one has recently been announced in the journal Nano Letters. We've mentioned the magic material graphene before and it continues to be the superhero material, coming to the rescue over and over again. This time, it shows up as a possible damper for heated copper wires.
Graphene is a one-atom thick material that can move electrons and heat. And it is able to cling to copper. Apparently by sandwiching copper between layers of graphene, the heat created by the metal is decreased by 25 percent. When attached to copper, the graphene actually changes its structure in such a way that allows the heat to move more freely through the metal, instead of being trapped in it.
From left: (1) copper before any processing, (2) copper after thermal processing; (3) copper after adding graphene. Image via UCR Today
There's an entirely new direction for materials coming to life—specifically, a hybrid that combines the best of non-living matter with living matter. Sounds sci-fi, but it's here and it's quite promising. Researchers at MIT have found a way to coax E. Coli bacteria to latch onto inorganic materials in order to create a much more flexible and adaptable non-living material. What this means is that we get the benefit of a living cell that can easily and smartly adapt to its environment, as well as the benefit of a non-living material that can conduct electricity and emit light. Essentially, the result is a non-living material that mimics a living one.
The scientists have created bacteria that can latch onto gold nanoparticles and semiconducting crystals called quantum dots. (Quantum dots are tiny particles that can emit light in an incredibly beautiful array of glowing and very discrete colors.)
There is an exciting development in the works regarding materials science, one that will have a huge impact on product design.
Developing new materials has traditionally taken an extremely long time. For example, in 1991, SONY and Asahi Kasei launched the first commercial lithium-ion battery, which is now the most popular battery powering our portable electronics today. The process to get this thing right was long and chock full of failure, requiring thousands of researchers working over a 20-year span of fruitful moments and many more dead ends. This is, unfortunately, how materials science works. Researchers have hunches, leading to ideas, followed by years of testing with various compounds, new synthesis of molecules, experimental chemistry—it winds up being just a lot of frustrating trial and error. Meanwhile, companies invest billions in new materials design and the wins are rare.
But things are about to change, dramatically. The rise of supercomputing paired with simplified quantum mechanics will bring in what scientists are claiming to be the supreme "Golden Age of Materials Science."
The idea is pretty straightforward: Supercomputers will study and model thousands of chemical compounds searching for the best possible foundation for a new material, it could be a new kind of semiconductor, a new alloy, a new plastic. So the initial guesswork and testing is entirely removed from the old process, exponentially cutting the time and effort. This new process is called high-throughput computational materials design and its poised to change everything.