Flippin' Biomaterials

April 1, 2013 | by Nick Snead

I saw this paper published in Science, authored by (as one of my undergraduate biomedical engineering biomaterials professors put it) one of the "demigods" of biomaterials, Bob Langer, and an up-and-coming materials scientist named Dan Anderson, who is making lots of siRNA-delivery biomaterials, too. Nick Snead_Flippin biomaterials figure with citation By the way, from Wikipedia: “Langer is also the youngest person in history (at 43) to be elected to all three American science academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.” I had the pleasure of listening to one of Dr. Langer’s talks when I was studying for my master’s degree. I encourage you to look up the Science article I found, merely reading the paper does not do it justice. I’d suggest you check out the videos from the supplementary data. The authors made these biomaterials that change shape very quickly and with a lot of strength upon contact/adsorption of water. (It’s not just a normal paper towel, but a wet paper towel that the materials are lying on top of.) Indeed, this is pretty cool and seems like magic. But, rather than just being “fun,” the authors state the following as the biomedical application of these materials: “The electrical energy is stored in capacitors that could power micro- and nanoelectronic devices.” These sorts of potential applications are important to state. But clearly, controlling the direction of the rolling and flipping would be a lot more impressive; I’m sure they’re already working on it. As a last point, yes, the engineering vocabulary is important. But another, former-engineer and joking part of me is like, “C’mon, guys. 'Actuator?' 'Generator?' It kind of seems like engineering purple-prose.”  

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