The architects-turned-mad-scientists Martina Decker and Peter Yeadon have developed an artificial muscle, which "flexes" in liquid and which could completely change how we design buildings.
Still just a prototype, it's made of a thin sheet of carbon nanotubes that can conduct electricity — and bend — when dipped in a sodium-chloride solution. The sheet is called Buckypaper (named for the architect Buckminster Fuller, a favorite in nerdish chemistry circles) and, no, it will not be used in calf implants. As the architects tell it, it has promising applications for new building materials.
The video below shows how you grow Buckypaper. About two minutes it, you can see the muscle, workin' it out:
The paper is, apparently, the Superman of architectural materials. It's hundreds of times stronger than steel, and can filter particles, conduct and disperse heat like metals, and, of course, transmit electricity. Decker and Yeadon were the first architects to synthesize Buckypaper (add this to the list of things architects do in a downturn). And while it's not entirely clear how the stuff will be used — Will it make buildings expand and contract? Will it make them dance? Will it turn them into the Hanz and Franz of the built environment? — it's obvious that it can open up all sorts of possibilities for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry.
Of course, Decker and Yeadon aren't the only architects who know their way around a lab. In May, we brought you news of Ginger Krieg Dosier, an American University of Sharjah professor who grows bricks from bacteria. We've also told you about MIT Media Lab materials scientist Neri Oxman, who's on a quest to make buildings breathe. Decker and Yeadon are different because they're leveraging nanotech — the great hope of, oh, pretty much everything — for a variety of design experiments. They've dreamed up "Nanorobotic Environments" and "Hydrophobic Nanotiles". Check out more on their Web site.