A new interactive exhibition is opening in the Science Gallery tomorrow.
allows visitors to explore the latest advances in material science and their ground-breaking applications. At the media launch, I caught up with scientists from RCSI, CRANN and Oxford University to chat about scaffolds, spiders, superconductors and superheros! Magical Materials (Click on a photo below to open gallery)
Students from St. Columba’s College chatting to CRANN researcher Amir Sajad Esmaeily at the ‘Invincible & Invisible’ stand. Magical Materials consists of a number of interactive stands. The materials are often very small and look quite ordinary to the naked eye. A quick demonstration reveals the extraordinary properties that lie within.
Magnetic levitation being demonstrated to students from St. Columba’s College and Eureka Secondary School. The material is cooled using liquid nitrogen to around -200 degrees Celsius which enables it to become a superconductor (a metal that will conduct electricity without any resistance).
“Magnetic levitation in physics is called the Meissner effect. When some materials go below a certain temperatures, called the critical temperature, they become a superconductor. In this state, magnetic lines cannot penetrate into the material. When you put a superconductor on a magnetic area, the field lines are repelled by the superconductor so they surround this material and a state of locking happens. It will levitate on the magnetic area.” – Amir Sajad Esmaeily, CRANN
“People are working on superconductor materials to bring the [critical] temperature close to 0 [degrees Celsius] because of the everyday applications e.g. transportation, electronics. Most importantly it can save lots of energy. We hope nanoscience can push the problem forward by making synthesised materials to get a higher [critical] temperature.” – Amir Sajad Esmaeily, CRANN
“Here we have got spider silk. [It is] an orb web from the golden orb-weaver spider. We have got a 13cm diameter segment here but the web is more typically about a meter. These are pretty large spiders that naturally produce this wonderful material which is one of the strongest materials known.” – Beth Mortimer, Oxford Silk Group
“The spider makes this material so it can absorb the energy of flying prey. Through doing this they have made a material which, if we can harvest enough, is potentially a high performance material. It may be able to replace materials like plastics. Spider silks are also 1,000 times more energy efficient to produce.” – Beth Mortimer, Oxford Silk Group
“The silk more typically known to people might be silk worm silk that is used in the textile industry. These are silk cocoons that are made by the mulberry caterpillar. [It] forms a cocoon around itself and you can get about a kilometre out of it. Silk worm silk needs to be 4 times stronger to be as good as spider silk. What [researchers] are trying to do it is to take spider silk genes and put them into silk worms. They have found the protein composition is only part of the story and a large part is the processing [by the silk worm or spider]. So [the resulting product] is actually more similar to silk worm silk as you’ve got a similar process.” – Beth Mortimer, Oxford Silk Group
“We work with scaffolds, cells and tissue engineer. We make lots of scaffolds to repair different materials in the body e.g. bone, cartilage and heart valves. [The scaffold] is a collagen-based material. You can hook the cells onto the scaffold material and that gives you a tissue engineered construct you can then put into the body. We’re still in the research stage but we’re hoping to get some of them into clinical trials. One of the projects we’re working on is the development of a heart valve. When you put in a synthetic or mechanical valve they can’t actually grow or change with the body. If you can get the body to use this scaffold material to grow its own body tissue, [the valve] can then change and grow as the patients changes and grows.” – Tanya Levingstone, RCSI
Photos on a nano-scale decorate the walls. These are a series of images captured by researchers in CRANN using a scanning electron microscope. Time to start a petition… sell some prints in the Science Gallery shop? (Please correct me if they are already available!)
If that sneak peek of the exhibition has whetted your appetite for more, there is one thing I must warn you about. Anyone unfortunate enough to suffer from maskaphobia should stay away! There are superheroes everywhere including Florogirl, The Flex and Nanoman. Designed by artist Stephen Byrne, they exhibit physical and chemical properties that are directly based on the emerging fields of material science research. Now… where is my nickel titanium sword?
Magical Materials runs in the Science Gallery from tomorrow until 14th October 2012. For more information, click here.