These Innovative Materials Will Redefine Our Future

The new book Transmaterial Next, by Blaine Brownell, catalogues remarkable innovations in material science, from the lightest substances ever made to self-assembling robotic cubes.
NeWool is a biocomposite textile material made of waste wool, potato starch, and natural pigments, developed by Politecnico di Milano designers Giada Lagorio, Valentina Rognoli, and Marta Rink. Images courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Materials science is serious business these days. Advanced materials underpin the world’s booming technology industries, and might well determine the sustainable future of the planet. So labs these days operate under high pressure to find the next big thing, writes architect and materials expert Blaine Brownell in his introduction to Transmaterial Next (Princeton Architectural Press, 2017): “The Latin motto citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger) embodies the competitive edge conferred by new laboratory-generated super-materials, such as Aerographene or metallic microlattice, which are two of the lightest substances ever made.”

Transmaterial Next, the latest in Brownell’s successful series on materials of the future, catalogues these innovations under ten categories: concrete, mineral, metal, wood and biomaterials, plastic and rubber, glass, paint and coatings, fabric, light, and digital. That last one might seem an odd inclusion in a book so deeply rooted in physical science, but in fact it best represents the book’s title. For the past few decades, cutting-edge materials have been based on hydrocarbons and carbohydrates (think Kevlar), but the future, Brownell suggests, will be dominated by technologies like the Pointelist building monitoring system by Metropolis Game Changer Kieran Timberlake and MIT’s self-assembling robotic cubes called M-Blocks. Neither is a material per se, but both are bound to have a profound impact on where materials science is headed next.

Bendable, fracture-resistant glass developed by Professor Francois Barthelat at McGill University’s Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Bioinspiration, in which glass is microengraved and fortified with polyurethane.

Nickel- and-phosphorus microlattice from HRL Laboratories.

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