Future cities could be built from selfhealing artificial bone

first_imgThe carbon emissions of the world are coming under ever closer scrutiny, which is why we are seeing increasing investment in so-called green tech. Concrete and steel production are examples of industry with very high carbon emissions and no clear solution to significantly curb them. With that in mind, researchers are trying to replace them completely instead.So how do you replace two of the most important building materials in the world? With artificial bone!A team of researchers working out of Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering are focused on biomimetics, also known as biomimicry. It’s basically the study of models, systems, and elements in nature in an attempt to imitate them to solve complex human problems. In this case, producing materials as strong as concrete and steel without the huge carbon emissions.Our bones are very strong and quite hard to break due to their near equal mix of protein and mineral. They also have the added bonus of being able to heal. Dr Michelle Oyen, who is leading this research, is running a lab producing samples of both artificial bone and eggshell. You may think that eggshell is a poor choice based on how easily it cracks, but ultimately the shell is very tough when you consider how thin it is and what it is capable of withstanding.Making artificial bone and eggshell can be done at room temperature using one of the most abundant proteins in the animal world: collagen. It’s also a process that can be scaled up easily for mass production.1000x magnified collagen fibers in boneWhat Dr Oyen and her team have discovered is that if you combine artificial bone and eggshell deposits grown on collagen, you end up with a “lattice-type structure,” which is even stronger. Work is also being done to see if the natural collagen could be replaced with a synthetic protein or polymer, which again could allow positive manufacturing or strength gains.Of course, a building made out of artificial bone is likely decades away, but the outlook is promising even at this early stage. And if the final material can retain the self-healing properties of real bone, it’s going to help make structures located near fault lines much safer.Image credit: Wellcome Imageslast_img

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