Mind & Matter


Five for 5

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Feather Circuit Boards by Richard P. Wool at the Center for Composite Materials, University of Delaware.


The new year often brings a chance to reflect, prompting us to make lists about past milestones. However, since I am usually more interested in what the future holds, I would like to offer my own list about emerging trends in materials. The following list includes five of the most significant material directions to watch in the next five years, and includes selections from my upcoming book Transmaterial 3.

1. Plastic is entering its most exciting phase since The Graduate. With plastics manufacturers eyeing future decreases in petroleum, biopolymers are all the rage now. Plastics made from renewable resources have already infiltrated product packaging and food containers, and more sophisticated applications are being developed. Above is a circuit board made from chicken feathers and soybeans, developed by Dr. Richard Wool at the University of Delaware.




Morphotex by Teijin Fibers Limited.


2. The concept of biomimicry continues to spark our imaginations, and real solutions are being synthesized that emulate natural functions and processes. Morphotex is the world’s first optically colored fiber, and mimics the wings of a butterfly (thus requiring no actual pigment).



Solar Ivy by SMIT.


3. The biggest word in energy technology continues to be (no surprise here) renewables. Recent developments in photovoltaic thin-films and other renewable technologies continue to add power-harnessing capability to materials. Above is Solar Ivy, SMIT’s array of photovoltaic leaves that flutter along building facades.



Kebony by Kebony ASA.


4. Dwindling resources push manufacturers to find creative material surrogates, and repurposed waste continues to find its way into new products as a result. Kebony is a high performance wood modified by a process called kebonization, in which wood properties are enhanced using biowaste from the sugar industry.



Monocoque by The MIT Media Laboratory / Material Ecology.


5. Today digital fabrication is used primarily for cutting or printing elaborate forms (or simply expediting the manufacturing process), but “digifab” is entering a more sophisticated era in which form and mechanical performance are tightly integrated. The MIT Media Lab’s Monocoque is a structural skin that is comprised by two materials whose densities correspond to simulated loading conditions—thus, form and structure are inextricably related, and may be programmed simultaneously.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: robinreigi | Time: 2:01 PM Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    thanks for your insights Blaine. I couldnt agree with you more in regard to solar products and biopolymers. We're using soy in Bamboo now which we are very excited about. Looking forward to trans! Robin Reigi

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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.