Tuesday, March 14, 2017


We try to deliver developments in materials engineering field because it's a valuable component anyone's ongoing surveillance of the AEC Industry. Engineering specific material qualities shows great promise but has been slow to leave the lab and find a place on the construction site. Useful nano-coatings are starting to emerge onto the market but I find it's the materials' structural and mechanical properties – which often merry contradictory qualities – most impressive. 

Credit: Glotzer Group, University of Michigan.

The first update comes from Northwestern University professor Chad Mirkin who's lab perfected a novel way of combining DNA to produce different crystallization structures. A lot of his research was based on previous advancements in modelling protein folding, one of the most computationally complex branches of applied mathematics, which here was used here in conjunction with other materials to create crystallization structures not previously seen in nature. The basic process harnesses knowledge of how A, C, G, and T nuclides fold but then include other nanoparticles in the self-assembly process to create the crystal structures. Here the medical benefits seem more apparent than the architectural goals, medicine delivery mainly, but different coatings could be developed in the future which have aesthetic or functional value to the AEC industry. His university summarizes his work thusly: "Mirkin is director of the research group that invented the chemistry for conjugating DNA and nanoparticles and a pioneer of the concept of programmable colloidal crystallization with nucleic acids."

The next update was super interesting because of its connection to 3D printing. Normally we promote a much bigger version of 3D printing suitable for architecture and construction, but Washington State University used 3D printing on a microscopic level which still has implications for architecture. Amazing! The details of the project are many but the general idea is that researchers used lasers to etch out their 3D structures from metallic vapour clouds, in this case gold. As the technique advances in sophistication and scale, the properties of these materials, say if carbon is substituted, start to have architectural implications. These materials can be engineered to have very specific mechanical properties of strength and lightness while still retaining certain amount of deflection and flexibility required for safe and productive building. Whole buildings made with of this sort of nano-technology are probably a way off but large-scale manufacturing of 3D printed materials is progressing quickly and there is nothing to say gravity defying architectural features can't be utilized within a decade. Having materials which combine characteristics that historically have always been contradictory openthe door to many creative design options. As adoption evolves, the laws of physics won't change how loads are transferred to the ground, but the structural members themselves could look radically different leading to new building forms heretowith not considered. 

Credit: Washington State University

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