Wind energy is gaining support in the U.S., both on ground and in the ocean. And the design specs for wind turbines are getting pretty sophisticated as they require exact performance requirements, including super lightweight material and a potential to operate for decades without maintenance. Meanwhile, the turbines are becoming longer, measuring as much as 75 meters, close to the wingspan of an Airbus jet. Most of the turbines in North America and Europe are made of balsa wood: It's durable, dense and yet lightweight... but it's expensive. So there is a new solution coming from materials scientists at Harvard.
Balsa's cellular structure has high strength per volume of space, as its cell walls carry the weight, but it has a lot of empty space which makes it extraordinarily lightweight. This new material is engineered with the same design (see photo above), so it can mimic the best qualities of balsa. But it is made from epoxy-based thermosetting resins and it's fabricated with 3D printers, which provide unprecedented precision.
Check out how they did it in the video here:
Typically 3D printing uses thermoplastics and resins, but these are not usually used in any sort of engineering solutions. This new material—based in epoxies—opens up another channel for 3D printing that has structural applications.
One of the stranger (and little known) facts of nature is that our living cells are electric, or can carry electricity. Every thought, feeling and movement we have comes from an electric spark. And we find this in complicated beings like us, as well as in the most basic forms of bacteria. But there is something that bacteria can do that no other living thing on Earth can: Consume pure electricity for their own energy. Sounds Frankensteinian but it's real.
Scientists have been luring all sorts of bacteria deep in rocks and mud with electric juice. And they've found that these creatures are eating and then excreting electrons. Now this isn't all that crazy, considering that, as I mentioned, we are made of electric pulses. And this process is fueled by food (specifically ATP, the molecule that provides storage for energy.) Electrons can and are taken from every food we eat, and they are carried by molecules throughout our bodies—this is a necessary process for life.
The difference and extraordinary thing about bacteria is that they don't need the "food" middleman. They consume pure electricity! Just like our (non-living) laptop plugged into the wall. (Think of this next time we consider how far removed we think we are from robotic devices.)
But what are the practical implications for innovative designers? Scientists have been able to grow all kinds of what they are calling "electricity breathers" in areas where you might not find other life forms. Researchers are saying this opens up a previously unknown biosphere. A biosphere of very useful, self-powered helpers.
With text becoming digital we'd think that libraries are suffering, if not dead already. But libraries—long known as reference and research centers—are reinventing themselves as places of 3D creativity. Libraries in Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Denver, Detroit and other cities across the US have purchased or are acquiring 3D printers and other maker tools for public use. In fact, one in six libraries in the US dedicate space to maker and DIY activity and learning, according the American Library Association.
Libraries had always served as a place for learning, research and discovery. And recently, since the financial crash in 2008, their reference materials have increasingly served as a way for people to figure out how to plan a new career or research new professional options. This then led to a rebirth of libraries as locations for entrepreneurship and business creativity. Librarians see this recent transformation as a natural extension of their historical 3000-year mission: to deliver and share information with the public.
About a third of the Chattanooga Public Library's reference material was sold to allow for a new maker lab. And apparently other libraries are going through similar renewal. The library of the University of Nevada cleared out more than 18,000 square feet of space for maker tools. And the star tool of choice is the 3D printer. Of course, they aren't cheap but the Institute of Museum and Library Services has granted $2.6 mil in printers and other tools.
Sometimes inspiration for how to use a material can come from the natural world. Case in point: The beauty of Utah's arches like the Rainbow Bridge above. A recent study out of Charles University in the Czech Republic breaks down how such sculptures form—and, in doing so, allows us to see potential for our own design and creativity.
The natural occurring arches and narrow stone towers do not require a complicated mix of materials or the natural variables involved in geology or weather. All we need is some sandstone and stress.
There are at least two big challenges with creating wearable technology. The first is to actually design something that people will want to buy and use, and the second is to keep the device in juice. Here we're going to look at the second.
The battery design and function of a wearable device is anything but trivial. We need to develop batteries that are flexible, thin, long-lasting and durable...a huge set of requirements that is very difficult to achieve. But one startup, Imprint Energy, thinks it's got a leg up with a printable, durable battery.