Engineering smart building skins for cleaner, greener architecture – Science Nation

Engineering smart building skins for cleaner, greener architecture – Science Nation


[♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
This is a “shape memory polymer” – heat it up
and it curls in on itself. Cool it down and it resumes
its original shape. They have lots
of different “looks,” but they all work
on the same principle. Zofia Rybkowski:
There’s lots of experimentation right now in materials that are responsive
to environmental cues. Miles O’Brien:
It’s an engineering challenge. With support from
the National Science Foundation, a multidisciplinary team
of scientists at Texas A&M University
are working to make buildings
more energy efficient. Zofia Rybkowski:
This is something that is – it’s a new field,
it’s very cutting edge, and these materials are being
developed on a daily basis. [♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
They’re using nature-inspired design and new materials
to create what are called “smart building skins.” Typical structures have the
basics – walls, windows, doors. A smart skin would allow
a building to breathe, much like a living system. For engineer Zofia Rybkowski,
the idea goes all the way back to
an undergraduate biology class. Zofia Rybkowski:
I remember my professor drawing, essentially this beautiful leaf
and talking about stomata, and this idea that
on the underside of leaves, we have these pretty
much microscopic openings. Miles O’Brien:
So-called “guard cells” surround those openings, plumping up and pulling them
wide in wet conditions, shriveling up
and pinching shut in dry ones. An elegant design for sure. One she remembered later
as an engineer with a strong interest
in architecture. It got her thinking. Zofia Rybkowski:
Can we start to create a system that is sort
of self-regulated, based on the properties
of the materials themselves, the inherent properties
of the materials themselves? [♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
These shape-memory polymers are the brainchild
of Maryam Mansoori. She and the team mix up
a chemical cocktail that they bake into wood. The new composite material
not only takes on and holds a precise shape, but it changes its shape
in response to different
environmental conditions. Maryam Mansoori:
So, these factors can be heat, can be light,
and they react to that. Miles O’Brien:
They activate on their own. No one has to switch them
on or off. Maryam Mansoori:
When it’s hot, we want the building skin
to be open to absorb air, and when it’s cold,
we want it closed, without using external
mechanical devices or electrical devices. [♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
They’re working on other approaches here too. Architect Negar Kalantar is
harnessing power of 3D printers to fabricate blocks
like these. Walls designed with them
might look like this, or this. Negar Kalantar:
So, these look like the modular concrete
or bricks that you have, but with a special design –
when you put them together, they generate some aperture
that air can go in. Miles O’Brien:
The holes in the blocks are shaped like nozzles, designed to naturally draw
fresh air into the building. Negar Kalantar:
Instead of having the whole thing smart,
we can just smart this part. It means that this part
can open and close. It looks like the aperture
of your eye. That small aperture can open
and close the whole system. Miles O’Brien:
But what are the most efficient shapes for the holes? They’re putting a lot of work
into that and testing many designs.
These are all early iterations. [music] Miles O’Brien:
They’re making bigger prototypes too, so they can test them
at a larger scale. And, they’re looking
at how new materials could self-regulate
more than just temperature, like air quality,
water conservation, and more.
It’s a real team effort. Zofia Rybkowski:
There’s many possible solutions to this problem, and so the idea was to get
all of our students engaged, 66 undergraduates
and graduate students engaged, to also help develop
some of these new strategies. Miles O’Brien:
The through-line for all of it is sustainability. Zofia Rybkowski:
That is the big picture, can we do more with less, can we harvest
what already exists in the environment
and incorporate that into the anatomy
of our buildings? Miles O’Brien:
Engineering smart building skins for cleaner,
greener architecture and design. For Science Nation,
I’m Miles O’Brien.

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