Mind & Matter


From Nanoscale to Building Scale

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Nanoscale particle deposition: photo by the Crawford Group, University of South Carolina


When architects and engineers are asked about their favorite new materials, the emphasis usually goes to the nano-scale marvels like Plastic Steel or CarbonCoat—substances that are developed in small quantities via time-intensive, lab-based processes. We often bemoan the fact that such materials cannot be easily scaled up for use in larger products—or better yet, buildings. Rather, the nanotechnological revolution often targets increasingly smaller-scale opportunities like next generation computer processing, in which transistors are approaching the molecular level.

Buildings haven’t been completely forgotten, however. University of South Carolina professor Thomas Crawford recognizes the benefits that nanoscale material manipulations might have on building performance, and is currently researching what he calls the “micron to meter” problem. With a background in magneto-optical information storage, Crawford is developing methods for scaling the particle deposition technology used for making disc drives up to larger sizes appropriate for glazing or building panels. Such a leap might allow for unprecedented control over common challenges such as daylight glare and solar heat gain—as well as provide means for deeper integration of photovoltaic technologies in common building materials.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 5:37 PM Friday, February 19, 2010

    There is some confusion here over scale. Nanomaterials are between 1 nanometer and 100 nanometers in at least one dimension; they don't scale up or scale down. Nanocomposites include nanomaterials, which usually impart their remarkable properties on the bulk matrix of the host nanocomposite material they are integrated into. For example, carbon nanotubes will impart some of their remarkable tensile strength upon prepreg, so that we can have stiffer carbon fiber composites for sports equipment, bicycles, boats, airplanes, etc. The nano to meter problem is already being managed with nanomaterials dispersed in fluids, whether vapor or liquid, for deposition using materials printers. Regarding applications, there are over 1000 nano-enabled products on the market today, some of which are specifically made for use in architecture (refer to the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Nanotechnologies, or Nanoarchitecture.net).

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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.