Turns out chitin is quite useful when you need a wrench.
- Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design constructed Mars-ready tools in preparation for colonization.
- The team chose chitin as a cheap and abundant material to fashion a wrench and habitat.
- Chitin occurs naturally in arthropod exoskeletons, fungus, and fish scales.
In this handout released by NASA, a Mars landscape is seen in a picture taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit January 8, 2003.
Credit:NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cornell University via Getty Images<p>Then there's the matter of cost. You can't simply take Earth's wares and think they'll work on Mars. If you're looking for the most bang for your buck, they believe they've identified a winner.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Chitin is a paradigmatic example of an organic matrix of mineralized composites; it is the second most abundant organic polymer on Earth (after cellulose) and biology's recurrent solution to forming structural components."</p><p>Even better, no specialized equipment will need to be spun up. Chitin's ubiquity makes it easy to source. The team combined chitosan with minerals akin to Martian soil, designing a wrench as well as a full-scale habitat. </p><p>The team recognizes the challenges of building materials designed for an alien civilization, but feel it's better to start now than for those brave explorers to arrive with shoddy tents. They were able to rapidly and inexpensively produce these products, which they believe could aid in "our transformation into an interplanetary species." Fernandez <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-chitin-bioinspired-material-tools-mars.html" target="_blank">continues</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments, but due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite."</p><p>The emphasis on sustainability and expense is important as we prepare to leave this planet. Hopefully, the martians will appreciate the effort. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
A mile-high tower would not just be a new structure, but a new technology.
- Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed The Mile-High Illinois in the 1950s.
- Innovations in construction materials and elevators are necessary to reach the one mile height and beyond.
- We may see the first mile-high skyscraper by the middle of the 21st century.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Mile-High Illinois<p>One of the first legitimate plans to build a mile-high tower that wasn't some megalomaniac's fever dream (maybe his was too), was famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's The Illinois. </p><p>On October 16th, 1956 at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago, Wright at 89 years old presented his design for what he conceived to be the tallest skyscraper in the world, an incredible spire shooting one mile high. The structure proposed to stand 528 floors and 5,280 feet (1,609 meters) tall. Behind him stood an illustration that measured 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall with the skyscraper's dimensions drawn at a scale of 1/16 inch to the foot. The Illinois' dimensions would have been astronomical at the time, with: </p><ul><li>528 floors </li><li>76 elevators </li><li>Gross floor area (GFA): 18,460,106 ft² (1,715,000 m²)</li><li>100,000 occupants </li><li>15,000 parking spaces </li><li>100 helicopter landing pads </li><li>Architectural height of 5,280 ft (1,609.4 m)</li><li>Tip antenna height of 5,706 ft (1739.2 m)</li></ul><p>"This is The Illinois, gentlemen… In it, will be consolidated all government offices now scattered around Chicago," Wright proclaimed.</p>
Frank Lloyd Wright presents The Mile High Illinois at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago
Credit: Alamy Photos<p>Wright in an exemplary display of showmanship unveiled the first proposal for the mile-high tower. He believed that he'd found a method to construct the tower out of two principles he coined "tenuity" and "continuity." With these methods he'd believed he would be able to construct the tower out of reinforced concrete and steel.</p> <p>The general principles between these two ideas is characterized by Wright's designs in which he used a "taproot" foundation to support the central load of the structure. </p> <p><a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/ct-frank-lloyd-wright-mile-high-met-0528-20170528-column.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chicago Tribune's Blaire Kamin</a> described it as follows: </p> <p> "The Mile-High didn't simply aim to be tall. It was the ultimate expression of Wright's "taproot" structural system, which sank a central concrete mast deep into the ground and cantilevered floors from the mast. In contrast to a typical skyscraper, in which same-size floors are piled atop one another like so many pancakes, the taproot system lets floors vary in size, opening a high-rise's interior and letting space flow between floors."</p>
Building technology for a 1-mile skyscraper<p>The undefeated champion of the skies right now is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at 2,717 feet (roughly half a mile) and is the tallest building in the world.</p><p>Although take that with a grain of dusty salt—only 1,916 feet of the Burj Dubai is occupiable space, the rest is vanity height, meaning nearly 800 feet is non-occupiable space. That represents 29 percent of the building's height. </p><p>So let's get back to real contenders for a mile high.</p><a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/08/20/2343/get-ready-for-more-and-taller-skyscrapers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Researchers at MIT Technology Review</a> used data from the experts at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and predicted that there is a 9 percent chance that a building exceeding a mile will be built by 2050. They've also predicted that by 2050, nearly 6 billion people will live in cities. Already we're seeing that urban areas in China and the Middle East are continually building up, not out.
Credit: Jonathan Auerbach and Phyllis Wan, International Journal of Forecasting Vol. 36, Issue 3<p>There are three major construction and stability aspects that must be dealt with if we're to reach a vertical mile. Those are:</p><ul><li>Dampening wind sway </li><li>Elevator speed and length </li><li>Construction materials </li></ul><p>The tallest skyscrapers all employ a tapered top design. This serves both a utilitarian and structural purpose. It's simply not possible to take pre-existing buildings and just double their height. </p><p>A mile-high tower would not just be a new structure, but a new technology. </p><p>Putting aside Burj Khalifa's vanity height for a moment, we have to admire its structural ingenuity. Designed by architect Adrian Smith and structural engineer William Baker at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the structure's foundational approach is a buttressed core – which is a hexagonal concrete core that frays out into three triangle buttresses. This was one inventive solution they made to support such a great height. </p><p>But that only solves one issue. </p><p><strong>Diverting winds at high elevations</strong> </p><p>What might be a slight breeze on the ground floor can turn into a windstorm in greater heights. Aside from the fundamentals of stability, occupants also need comfortability. Most building sway is harmless to the structural integrity of the building. But the last thing anyone wants is to feel like they're in the midst of a tornado 500 floors above ground level. </p><p>Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals calculate estimated wind sway from a building's height and incorporate that into the design. Buildings are often made to withstand cataclysmic 500 to 1000 year inclement weather disasters. </p><p>To deal with wind, you either confuse it by spinning it around the building in creative structural ways or you use a mass dampener.</p><p>A mass dampener is a counterweight suspended somewhere in the building to counteract and balance the movement from the outside. For example, the Taipei 101 Tower employs a <a href="https://gizmodo.com/how-a-730-ton-ball-kept-the-second-tallest-building-fro-5019046" target="_blank">730 ton orb </a>pendulum that sways back and forth to balance wind from storms and typhoons. </p><p>Aerodynamic vortexes of wind can exert dangerous amounts of pressure and vibrations on a building. Air currents can be unpredictable, so rather than guess what could happen to the building, AEC professionals need to calculate it directly into the design. If it's not a mass dampener, it'll be a mix of structural fins, curves, and asymmetrical floors. </p><p><strong>Elevator speed and stability</strong> </p><p>The logistical obstacles of moving thousands of people in a mile-high skyscraper is one of the biggest challenges. To reach the floor at the top of a mile-high building with current technology would require people to change elevators multiple times. </p><p>The current figure for elevators runs at 1,600 feet as wire suspension ropes cannot support their own weight and any additional weight after that point. Aside from the technical limitations, needing multiple elevator lobbies would take up too much valuable space. </p><p>A few years ago, Finnish elevator company Kone developed a carbon fiber cable, UltraRope that they believe could double the distance of an elevator rope. This would be enough to get those would-be mile-high penthouse residents to their sky digs. </p><p>Beyond the old school cable elevator, others have floated ideas about a looped system that could pull elevators up, down and sideways. This could increase the building's usable area by 25 percent. </p><p><strong>New structural materials</strong> </p><p>Concrete has served us well for thousands of years. It's time to rethink what materials we can use. Engineers are looking at materials like carbon fiber, an extremely lightweight and strong material. </p><p>Carbon fiber is a polymer composed of thin strands of carbon atoms bound together in a unique crystalline formation. It is far lighter than steel, five times stronger and has double the stiffness. Currently carbon fiber is used in a number of manufacturing processes ranging from aircraft wings to bike frames. Carbon fiber and other related composite materials weigh very little but can take on heavy bearing loads.</p>
The future of the mile-high skyscraper<p>With billions of residents in our cities, it's an inevitability that we'll one day reach the one-mile-high mark, if not beyond that as well. But we need to think about what these skyscrapers will be used for and how they'll interact with and reshape the built environment. </p><p>At the turn of the 20th century, the 1916 Zoning Resolution in New York City was a measure adopted to stop massive skyscrapers from blocking light and air from reaching the streets below. It established limits to what could be built and created a series of setbacks to building lots. </p><p>New measures would need to be created as a building of this magnitude entered into the public domain. New building uses also need to be considered. How many more luxury condos and office space do we really need? </p><p>The advent of a mile-high tower could bring about a new age of the homestead and of our created environment. We have the opportunity to build something that could be a fully functioning self-contained ecosystem, more than just a building, but a city within a city. </p><p>A mixed use building like this could shelter thousands and give them a place where they could work, play, live, and exist on the peripheries of humankind's greatest ingenuity. A place like this could also serve as a consolidated seat for governments and working space for companies of the future. Why not continue to build vertically with farms, factories, and more?<br></p><p>When we one day build to a mile and beyond, the sky will no longer be the limit, it will be our domain.</p><p><em></em><em>Mike Colagrossi is the founder of </em><em><a target="_blank" href="https://alchemistcity.com/?utm_source=bigthink&utm_medium=editorial&utm_campaign=mile-high-skyscraper">Alchemist City,</a></em><em> the most thought-provoking urban development and technology email newsletter. </em><em><a target="_blank" href="https://alchemistcity.com/?utm_source=bigthink&utm_medium=editorial&utm_campaign=mile-high-skyscraper" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up</a></em><em> to stay up to date.</em> <em></em></p>
The drive would provide enough thrust for a spacecraft to travel near the speed of light using only electricity, says physicist Jim Woodward.
- The thrust system utilizes piezoelectric crystals, which vibrate extremely rapidly when exposed to electric current.
- Early tests have yielded mixed results, but Woodward and his colleagues say a recent breakthrough related to the design of the thruster mount greatly increased thrust.
- Independent teams of scientists will likely test Woodward's design after the pandemic.
A heterodox view of inertia<p>Woodward's system is based on ideas that 19th-century physicist Ernst Mach proposed about inertia, which is an object's tendency to stay at rest unless acted upon.</p><p>In simple terms, Mach's principle argues that distant matter causes local inertial effects. So, a star in a far away galaxy has some effect on the inertia you encounter when you push a shopping cart. That's the idea, anyway. (Woodward gives a comprehensive breakdown of his views on Mach's principle in this <a href="https://medium.com/predict/james-woodward-on-machs-principle-for-reactionless-inertial-propulsion-34384863ad50" target="_blank">blog post</a>.)</p><p><span></span>In the 20th century, Albert Einstein incorporated Mach's ideas into his theory of general relativity, essentially arguing that gravity and inertia are fundamentally linked. But the broader physics community later rejected this view of inertia, largely because of a <a href="http://people.loyno.edu/~brans/ST-history/phd-thesis-Brans.pdf" target="_blank">1961 paper</a> that showed inertia to be unrelated to the gravitational influence of distant matter.</p><p>Still, Woodward believes Einstein had it right all along, and that, under this framework of inertia, it's possible to develop propulsion systems that require only an electrical charge, not fuel. The key element of his thruster is a stack of piezoelectric crystals, which produces an alternating electric field when voltage is applied to it, as Woodward explained:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Piezoelectric crystals are <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromechanics" target="_blank">electromechanical</a> devices, which means that when you apply the voltage, they mechanically expand & contract depending upon the sign of the voltage. So by applying a voltage, you're causing an E/c² energy fluctuation in the stack no matter what they do mechanically, and you're also producing an acceleration because of the changing dimensions of the stack due due to electromechanical effects, which also causes the acceleration required couple the device to the large gravitational field."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The trick is timing the energy fluctuations and mechanical oscillations correctly, which requires using two frequencies — at the first and second harmonics, and it's the second harmonic that actually produces thrust."</p>
High-reward work<p>After the COVID-19 pandemic settles down, other scientists and engineers hope to put Woodward's designs to the test. The results of those experiments should reveal whether he's onto something. To some experts in the field, the odds are slim. But that doesn't mean it's not worth investigating.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I'd say there's between a 1-in-10 and 1-in-10,000,000 chance that it's real, and probably toward the higher end of that spectrum," Mike McDonald, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland, told Wired. "But imagine that one chance; that would be amazing. That's why we do high-risk, high-reward work. That's why we do science."</p>
DNA molecules are highly programmable.
By folding DNA into a virus-like structure, MIT researchers have designed HIV-like particles that provoke a strong immune response from human immune cells grown in a lab dish. Such particles might eventually be used as an HIV vaccine.
It doesn't help that Hollywood has cast the 'coder' as a socially challenged, type-first-think-later hacker, inevitably white and male.