Mind & Matter


A Natural Recipe for Transparent Panels

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Transforming a crab shell into transparent chitin. Photo courtesy of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

As mobile-electronics manufacturers seek more advanced technologies for displays, they are increasingly turning to natural materials for inspiration. One unlikely example is the use of light-transmitting chitin, made by chemically treating the shells of dead crabs to remove existing proteins, fats and minerals. The Kyoto University scientists who created this modified shell further transformed the material by polymerizing it in a bath of acrylic resin. After this process yielded successful results, the researchers pulverized chitin and flattened it into a polymerized nanocomposite panel, thus creating a light-transmitting sheet that remains stable when heated.

This experimental manipulation of chitin suggests the strong possibility of harvesting shellfish waste from seafood processing plants to make inexpensive resilient and transparent displays. Although the transformation requires a chemical-intensive process, it may also be possible to imagine heat-resistant building apertures made from chitin in the future.



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.