This year we witnessed a host of exciting developments in the world of materials—from the proliferation of 3D printing to cutting-edge applications of biotechnology and new ways of bringing solar harvesting technologies into our lives. Research brought us things we are still marveling at, like the world's lightest metal which is surprisingly strong even though its mostly hollow. Take a look back at the most interesting work in material studies from 2015—these are the innovations that will shape the way we connect with our environments in the years to come.
At the University of Rochester, scientists developed a technique using lasers to inscribe intricate micro patterns on metals, transforming them into completely waterproof and hydrophobic surfaces. The technique has a lot of promising applications, most notably in developing countries where it may prove vital in improving sanitation standards.
A new product was added to the impressive lineup of resins at FormLabs—a "Tough Resin" able to withstand high stress and absorb force, and perfect for prototyping. The team created a Rube Goldberg machine to demonstrate its resilient and adaptive properties.
Taking the art of origami to new heights, a trio of researchers pioneered the "zippered tube" technique—an interesting way of thinking about a most common material. They found that cutting paper into a particular zig-zag pattern and joining it with another sheet of the same shape to form a kind of zipper yields surprisingly strong structures. We're looking forward to seeing how this technique will be applied to real-world projects at multiple scales.
Strength and record-breaking lightness go hand in hand in the case of micro lattice, an unprecedented metal that is 99.99% air and 100 times lighter than styrofoam, yet strong enough to be applied to structural components in aeronautical design.
Designer Marjan van Aubel uses dye-sensitized solar cells to bring a modern sensitivity to a Medieval art form. Her work considers how we can better integrate the benefits of solar harvesting technologies in our daily lives, in a manner that is just as beautiful as it is utilitarian.
Spanish designer Jorge Penadés has been experimenting with leather scraps, shredding them and forming them into a new raw material that he shapes into furniture. Further experiments with different finishes for his "Structural Skin" create an array of colorful, marbled effects that are quite easy on the eye.
Like us, you might be surprised to find that ink comes with a host of toxic chemicals like heavy metals and petroleum byproducts. That's where Living Ink Technologies step in with an ecologically-responsible alternative—algae-based ink. The solution comes with a surprising bonus twist: it disappears after you apply it and then gradually reappears over time.
The future of biotechnology takes center stage in this project by Sputniko! (aka Hiromi Ozaki) who collaborated with scientists from the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan to create a glowing dress made of silk derived from injecting silkworm eggs with jellyfish or coral DNA.
In Milan we encountered the emergent territory of sensory manufacturing through Sander Wassink and Olivier van Herpt's 3D printed ceramics. Their bespoke printer taps into its environment through sensors and programmed scripts to record and translate the particulars of its surrounding space into uncanny, primitive objects.
The Mediated Matter Group at MIT developed a prototype glass 3D printer which is able to heat the material to a whopping 1900 degrees Fahrenheit. Though currently it looks like a desktop printer, the group intends to pursue a much larger scale with their machine, creating multi-functional glass structures and facade elements for architectural applications.
3D printing will probably be embraced more and more by the clothing industry in the years to come and in the meantime, research-driven projects like this student work by Danit Peleg, exemplify a way forward for the technology by creating pieces that don't just look like fabric but are actually able to bounce and flow like real textiles.
Not quite a new material but an essential resource for everything you need to know about the process—from its lesser-known history to thorough explanations of how the machines work, broken down for you in a clear visual manner.