Materials science continues to develop new substances with remarkable attributes, as well as inventive new combinations of traits. Sophisticated new materials are already playing a major role in engineering, medicine, science, design and manufacturing, as well as in everyday life.
Here we highlight some new and inventive materials that are bringing science fiction closer to reality.
Developed by Ross Nanotechnology, NeverWet is a super-hydrophobic coating capable of repelling water, heavy oils and other sticky, viscous fluids. Liquids bead and roll off surfaces coated with NeverWet, meaning that clothing and even electronics — such as cell phones and cameras — could potentially be rendered waterproof. Apart from the obvious applications for waterproofing and stain resistance, the material could also find use as an antibacterial coating, an icing repellent and as protection against corrosion.
As with all construction materials, concrete eventually deteriorates over time, resulting in costly maintenance work and potentially hazardous scenarios. However, scientists at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom are now developing a type of self-healing concrete, which relies on a ground-borne bacteria – bacilli megaterium – to block the concrete’s pores. This organic substance is a crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, which can keep out water and other damaging substances to prolong the life of concrete and reduce costs by enabling construction material to repair itself.
“The bacteria is grown on a nutrient broth of yeast, minerals and urea and is then added to the concrete. With its food source in the concrete, the bacteria breeds and spreads, acting as a filler to seal the cracks and prevent further deterioration,” according to an announcement of the project. “It is hoped the research could lead to a cost-effective cure for ‘concrete cancer’ and has enormous commercial potential.”
Also known as “frozen smoke,” aerogel is a powerful insulator produced through the supercritical drying of liquid gels of alumina, chromia, tin oxide or carbon. It looks transparent and can block extreme heat and cold. Materials in the aerogel category contain extraordinarily high surface areas within their internal fractal structures, with a 1-inch cube of aerogel capable of having an internal surface area equivalent to a football field. Despite its low density, aerogel is also extremely strong and is being considered as a component in military armor.