Tag Archives: Nature
Researchers from MIT have looked to an ancient fish for inspiration in modern warfare.
This fish, Polypterus senegalus, is a tough beast whose strong bite and sturdy exoskeleton has kept its species going for 96 million years. Each of the scales that cover its long body is made up of multiple layers; when the fish is bitten, each layer cracks in a different pattern so that the scale stays intact as a whole.
Scales near the flexible parts of the fish, such as the tail, are small and allow the fish to bend. Those on the side, protecting the internal organs, are larger and more rigid. Their joints fit together tightly so that each peg reinforces the next scale rather than allowing it to flex.
After performing x-ray scans of scales, Swati Varshney and her team turned to 3D modeling and 3D printing to develop body armor that would protect humans in a similar way.
The researchers created computer models of the different scale types and blew them up to 10 times their original size. Using a 3D printer, they printed a sheet of 144 interlocking scales out of a rigid material (an early prototype is pictured). The group hopes to eventually develop a full suit of fish-scale body armour for the US military that could replace the heavy Kevlar armour currently used, but Varshney says this is still some way off. Such a suit would mimic the fish: rigid and strong across the torso and more flexible towards the joints.
Dragon fish photo by kafka4prez used under Creative Commons license.
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The field of synthetic biology offers us state-of-the-art results like biofuel, but researchers are looking to push the envelope and develop a technique that could be Nature’s version of 3D printing.
Designers at IDEO have teamed up with scientists at the Lim Lab at the University of California, San Francisco to envision a “provocation” (that’s designer-ese for thought experiment) in which they explore the possibilities of exploiting known properties of microorganisms to literally “grow” the products we use every day.
In layman’s terms, researchers are exploring ways to train bacteria to grow into shapes when exposed to light. Perhaps one training could result in a coffee cup while another results in a functional motor gear.
In their first visual exploration of this possibility, they decided to expand on an already-demonstrated property of certain E. coli bacteria. These bugs were genetically engineered to be responsive to light, creating so-called “bacterial photographs.”
From there, Will Carey and Adam Reineck of IDEO teamed up with Reid Williams, a Ph.D. candidate at UCSF, to imagine a photo-sensitive microorganism that would have its light-sensitive switch linked to a different property–say, the production of a hard shell.
The result could be a tough and durable everyday object made out of cells encased in cellulose–the stuff in plants–or chitin, which is the major component of lobster shells.
It’s important to note that at this stage, this process is still entirely conceptual. But it is based on real science, and that’s the whole point: design provocations like these help people think outside the mental boxes we’ve all been put in by our limited knowledge of what’s happening at the frontiers of science.
Via Fast Company.
Biologist photo by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used under Creative Commons license.
MIT Media Lab researchers Neri Oxman and Steven Keating are creating biologically-inspired 3D printing systems.
Oxman explains the mission of their lab, “Our goal here is to explore processes for digital fabrication like 3D printing that are inspired by nature with the belief that we are going to emerge on the other side generating and making things that are more efficient and more effective.”
An MIT news piece covering their work describes how nature can inspire better industrial design:
To illustrate this, Keating uses the example of a palm tree compared to a typical structural column. In a concrete column, the properties of the material are constant, resulting in a very heavy structure. But a palm tree’s trunk varies: denser at the outside and lighter toward the center. As part of his thesis research, he has already made sections of concrete with the same kind of variations of density.
The video below includes interviews with both Oxman and Keating.
Neri Oxman photo by poptech used under Creative Commons license.
University researchers have discovered a way to 3D print blood vessels, using sugar as the “ink” and a RepRap 3D printer. UPenn and MIT researchers collaborated on the study.
The research was conducted by a team led by postdoctoral fellow Jordan S. Miller and Christopher S. Chen, the Skirkanich Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering at Penn, along with Sangeeta N. Bhatia, Wilson Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and postdoctoral fellow Kelly R. Stevens in Bhatia’s laboratory.
Rather than trying to print a large volume of tissue and leave hollow channels for vasculature in a layer-by-layer approach, Chen and colleagues focused on the vasculature first and designed free-standing 3D filament networks in the shape of a vascular system that sat inside a mold. As in lost-wax casting, a technique that has been used to make sculptures for thousands of years, the team’s approach allowed for the mold and vascular template to be removed once the cells were added and formed a solid tissue enveloping the filaments.
The formula they settled on — a combination of sucrose and glucose along with dextran for structural reinforcement — is printed with a RepRap, an open-source 3D printer with a custom-designed extruder and controlling software. An important step in stabilizing the sugar after printing, templates are coated in a thin layer of a degradable polymer derived from corn. This coating allows the sugar template to be dissolved and to flow out of the gel through the channels they create without inhibiting the solidification of the gel or damaging the growing cells nearby. Once the sugar is removed, the researchers start flowing fluid through the vascular architecture and cells begin to receive nutrients and oxygen similar to the exchange that naturally happens in the body.
Below is a video showing their amazing discovery.
Read more from the UPenn summary.
Blood vessel photo by shoebappa used under Creative Commons license.