Spirulina's spiral structure
Courtesy Empa Spirulina's spiral structure

You might know spirulina—a blue-green algae—from your local health food store, but researchers from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, are turning the unicellular organisms into "mini power plants." With spirulina's innately efficient spiral structure, researchers covered the organisms in thin layers of nickel, zinc oxide, and zinc sulfide to create a delicate photocatalytic coating that can ultimately produce biofuels. [Empa]

The National Fire Protection Association is making allowances for larger and taller mass timber structures in its NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, available later this year. Following a three-year evaluation of wood, these new provisions increase the area and number of stories allowed above "existing heavy timber limits," specify levels of fire resistance and non-combustible protection, and include precautions "for the protection of shafts, exterior walls, concealed spaces, and connections with non-combustible materials," according to an American Wood Council press release. "The addition of tall mass timber provisions to NFPA 5000 and NFPA 101 ensures compatibility with the International Building Code, thereby furthering the market opportunity for tall mass timber buildings,” said AWC vice president of codes and regulations Kenneth Bland in the same release. “NFPA’s recognition of tall mass timber furthers the availability of a low-embodied carbon alternative compared to traditional building materials.” [American Wood Council]

Courtesy Illusory Materials

San Francisco–based designers Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng have created Illusory Materials using a computation method that deploys multi-material 3D printing and volumetric design and outputs products with a lenticular effect in response to to user interactions. Designers can layer different materials and embed information into each product they create, according to an Illusory Materials press release. So far, these surreal products include a seemingly clear bottle that reveals information when tilted to a certain angle; and a lollipop mold with a color and texture made possible by a unique digital skin. “While many designers largely rely on 3D printing for prototyping, few are currently exploring the wider design possibilities that the rapid development of multi-material 3D printing provides," said Zeng in the same release. "Today’s consumer has become accustomed to responsive products, but this has largely been limited to the use of electronic components like touchscreens to enable interaction.” [Illusory Materials]

Researchers from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles are exploring ways to upcycle carbon dioxide emissions with a more enviromentally friendly tool: sunlight. In "Computational Analysis of Electron Transfer Kinetics for CO2 Reduction with Organic Photoredox Catalysts," published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry A, the researchers explain how they used UV light to excite oligophenylene (an organic molecule) and create a negatively charged anion. That anion would transfer its electrons to a nearby molecule—in this case C02, making the stable molecule reactive and ready to convert into fuels or consumer products such as pharmaceuticals or plastics. "CO2 is notoriously hard to reduce, which is why it lives for decades in the atmosphere,” said USC assistant professor Shaama Sharada in a USC press release. “But this negatively charged anion is capable of reducing even something as stable as CO2, which is why it’s promising and why we are studying it.” [USC Viterbi]

Researchers from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed a biocompatible material with shape memory; that is, its keratin–based fibers can both change and retain their shape. In "A Bioinspired and Hierarchically Structured Shape-Memory Material" published in Nature Materials, the researchers described 3D-printing sheets of keratin sourced from leftover Angora wool, programming it into a range of permanent shapes, such as a star, before coiling each sheet into a tight tubes. After being submerged in water, the tubes would revert to their programmed shapes. "This two-step process of 3D printing the material and then setting its permanent shapes allows for the fabrication of really complex shapes with structural features down to the micron level,” said first author Luca Cera, a Harvard SEAS postdoctoral fellow, in the institution's press release. “This makes the material suitable for a vast range of applications from textile to tissue engineering.” [Harvard SEAS]

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have developed an app to help hospitals more accurately predict the resources they will need to care for COVID-19 patients. The system, in use at UCLA health facilities since mid-April, calculates the ideal number of inpatient beds, ICU beds, and ventilators up to weeks in advance. Now, the program is available to other health care systems through UCLA's Stop COVID-19 Together website. "Our approach models the rate of change in the number of COVID-19 patients in the community, as well as the resources used by these patients as a function of their demographic characteristics, for example, their age," said Eleazar Eskin, chair of the UCLA Department of Computational Medicine, in the same announcement. [UCLA Health]

Worn down by age, structural issues, and corrosion, three of London's major transit crossings—the Hammersmith Bridge, the Vauxhall Bridge, and the London Bridge—have closed to vehicular traffic in order to undergo emergency repairs that have resulted in protracted detours, traffic nightmares, and financial losses for local retail establishments. As the New York Times' headline put it: "London's Bridges Are Really Falling Down." [New York Times]