Tuesday, 22 April 2014


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The world of construction has moved beyond brick and mortar.Curtain glass walls and aluminium panels are not the end of material advancement.The construction industry is looking at materials that push their performance. Researchers are mimicking nature and modifying material behaviour that will enhance building function and make maintenance easier.

Wilhelm Barthlott, a German Scientist, studied “the behaviour of how lotus leaves pearled off the water from its surface”. After careful study of the microstructure of the leaf, he patented a technique called the ‘Lotus effect’. This technology was built into a new kind of paint with a brand name Sto-Lotuscan colour. When this paint is applied on a surface, it never allows water drops to stay. As a result, the surfaces are kept clean and dry.They give no room for micro-organisms to grow. No algae to dirty your painted wall.

Lotus leaves inspired another group of Engineers differently. Engineers at Ohio University found the waxy lotus leaf useful in designing self-cleaning windows. Through a rigorous study of the leaf structure, Engineers have arrived at a suitable density and pattern of placing tiny bumps on glass surface. These bumps imitate the leaf structure. Since, they are smaller than a droplet and closely laid, they do not allow the droplets to stay. The drops roll off keeping the surface clean.

Adrew R. Parker and Chris Lawrence, in the United Kingdom, studied the African Namib beetle to develop a new hybrid. The Namib beetle lives in the desert and depends on fog for its water. It positions its body at 45 degree and spreads its bumpy wing against the wind that carries moisture. The moisture collects on the surface as minute droplets, which then combine and roll as a water droplet directly into the mouth of the beetle. The Scientists have developed a surface with small-waxed glass beads imitating the beetel wings. When held at angle these surfaces can collect water from the fog. These surfaces also come very useful, where the temperature difference between inside and outside is significant.

The state of art advancement is the nanomaterials. Nanomaterials or nanocrystaline materials are those possessing very small sizes of grains in the order of a billionth of metre. When the materials are produced with such small grain sizes their property changes. They can radically change to provide useful innovations. For example; porcelain that has excellent thermal properties but brittles; nano processing can become so flexible that it can function as tiny spring in a computer and take care of the heat that is produced.

Italcementi, the big cement manufacturer in Italy, produced a special type of cement for the famed Dives in Misericordia Church project in Rome. Richard Mier, the American Architect, who designed this Church, is known for his obsessive use of white surfaces. The new invention promised him that his designed white concrete surfaces would always remain white; thanks to the new white cement that contains titanium dioxide. Titanium oxide with photo catalytic action breaks various organic air pollutants that touch the cement surface. It constantly oxidizes the pollutants into carbon dioxide. As a result, the pollutants never get a layer to stick to. The surface remains clean and white. The same catalytic properties of titanium oxide are used in some of the buildings in Japan like Marunouchi building toreduce the discolouring of its walls due to pollution.

Two Researchers in Australia pushed this concept little further. The photocatalytic of titanium requires sunrays.Hence, such self-cleaning properties of titanium oxide could only be mobilised for external use. Rose Amal and Professor Michael Brungs of University of New South Wales have developed a nano material with titanium oxide that can work with interior light. Lab tests have shown when this material is applied over tiles and curtains and they can activate titanium oxide. As a result, microbes like Escherchia coli are killed and other organic compounds are disintegrated. This, it is hoped, will lead to designing a self cleaning bathroom.


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