Mind & Matter


Sponges Made of Glass

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Transparent glass sponge. Photo: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Although we typically think of glass as a human-made material, glass has actually long existed in nature in the form of transparent skeletons in diatoms and sea sponges. When looking at these beautiful, resilient structures, we might wonder if we could seek to emulate such captivating forms in glass.

Recently, researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have fabricated their own transparent glass sponges. Similar to their function at sea, these glass structures will support algae in photobioreactors. The sponges are especially desirable for their light transmission qualities, as they disperse sunlight at the optimum local intensity for the algae.

The glass sponges, which are described in an article in Advanced Engineering Materials, are not yet commercially available. However, this new material technique could lead to a variety of future applications, such as lighting and insulation (or a combination of the two).



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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.