Top 10 materials that will change the world

Scientists are constantly trying to discover new materials that will change or improve current technologies. They find new ways of manipulating matter on a smaller scale, inspiring more and more by nature. New materials, which appear to be books or SF films, are not just scientific curiosities, they are useful in the most authentic sense of the word, so their introduction will surely change the world.

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10. Ferrofluids

Ferrofluid or magnetic fluid is a fluid composed of ferromagnetic, ferromagnetic, or paramagnetic particles colloidal (in the state of dispersion, non-diffusive) that are suspended in a liquid. In other words, think about the polymorph robot in Terminator 2, T-1000. Like this, these fluids are basically liquid metals capable of changing shape. The basis of this ability is the high content of magnetite, hematite or any other iron compound, evenly distributed in a liquid. These particles, having an average size of about 10 nanometers (1 x 10-6 cm), are coated with a stabilizing agent that prevents the agglomeration of particles even when a strong magnetic field is applied to the ferrofluid. Thus, the whole fluid becomes magnetically, configurable in an infinity of shapes.

Ferrofluids are already used in our everyday life without being observed. Stuck in magnetic field position, ferrofluids form liquid seals that protect our PC's HDDs. They are also used in the manufacture of loudspeakers. These are two of the most common uses of this material, but there are many applications and a huge future potential is predicted. NASA's are considering ferrofluids for use in altitude control systems in future spacecraft. Some Canadian experts believe ferrofluids could be the basic material for the next generation of telescope mirrors, capable of changing shape to compensate for atmospheric or other distortions. Another area of ​​immense potential is medical. Virginia Tech researchers in the US are exploring the use of a ferrofluid containing iron oxide nanoparticles to destroy cancerous tumors. The fluid is "sent" directly into the tumor where it will be subjected to an oscillating magnetic field that will make the fluid vibrate, generating heat that kills cancer cells. "Ideal treatment would increase the temperature of the tumor cells and keep it constant on that of healthy tissue," said Professor Iswar Puri, the research team leader at Virginia Tech.

9. Gold nanoparticles

British researchers have made a test, based on the use of gold nanoparticles, which will detect the first stages of fatal medical conditions such as HIV or prostate cancer.
At the microscopic scale, materials tend to acquire new properties. If on a macro scale, a piece of gold is a precious metal, and at the nano scale, gold particles can produce different colors, depending on how they are organized. Thus, scientists at Imperial College London have developed an HIV test based on a gold ion-rich solution. How does this test work? There is a drop of blood in that solution, and what will happen next with gold particles will tell whether the subject under test is HIV-positive or not. If he has HIV, the level of hydrogen peroxide in the solution decreases, the gold particles accumulate in irregular micro groups and the solution becomes blue. If the patient is healthy, hydrogen peroxide abounds, the microgroups will be spherical and the solution will be red. This test is so precise that it can detect the presence of an attogram (one billionth of one gram) of HIV protein in one milliliter of serum. This makes it ten times more sensitive than the previous tests, being also 10 times cheaper to manufacture. Moreover, the result of the test can be seen with the naked eye and no longer requires processing with the help of expensive machines.

Prof. Molly Stevens, of Imperial College London: "So far, we've only demonstrated the viability of the concept, including testing human seropositive blood. Technology needs optimization to make it portable and easy to use. That could take less than five years, "she said. An immense advantage of this test is that it can be modified to detect other diseases such as prostate cancer, tuberculosis or maladia.

8. Polyurethane block copolymer

Polyurethane block copolymer is a formidable, transparent material capable of stopping a bullet, encompassing it without leaving any traces and without cracking. According to Professor Ned Thomas, at Rice University in Houston, this material has the ability to seal the projectile's entry point, which is explained by the fact that the impact area melts in part, a process that scatters the energy, partly using it to reshape.

If this material is to be used for the manufacture of windscreens or the rest of vehicle glass, the safety of drivers and passengers would increase exponentially. In addition to its obvious "glass" role, this material can also be used for bulletproof vests or spacecraft and satellites. For anti-bullet vests, a piece of steel of similar size would be much less inefficient and 7 times heavier. As a protective layer of ships and satellites, this type of polyurethane would relieve many worries about spatial "garbage".

7. Invisibility through metamaterials

Metamaterials are artificial materials made to develop properties that are not found in nature. They are assembled from many individual elements of materials such as metal or plastic.
Metamaterials are strange by definition: "As a rule, in material science we are given a substance that we determine its properties, and only then we use it for it. With metamaterials, things are all over, "said Professor Costas Soukoulis of Iowa State University.

A major goal in using these metamaterials would be to set up an "invisible cape" that could have countless military and civilian applications. In order to become a "cloak" or "cape", the metamaterial should contain nanostructures that give it a negative refractive index and unnatural deform the light so that it will bypass an object. In other words, if these two processes were possible, any object covered by this "cloak" would become invisible.

6. Programmable matter

What if the materials that make up the world we live in would be "alive"? This is precisely what is based on programmable matter. It could change shape to order as well as its features. Some examples: a screwdriver that can become a hammer, then a patent, a self-assembly robot, or furniture pieces that are mounted on their own. These fanciful examples seem to be broken in the "Transformers" films, but this technology already existed in MIT laboratories. "This technology opens up a universe of possibilities in which we can program not only computers but also the matter itself," explains the Romanian teacher Daniela Rus, the head of the team conducting the research at MIT.

Daniela Rus, along with his colleagues, created sheets of programmable matter that can take the form of polymorphic objects, from origami figurines to insect robots capable of catching and having other objects. "Instead of a bulky box full of specific tools, such as screwdrivers and keys, we would have a thin map with foils from which we can create everything we need," Rus said.

5. Concrete regenerating

Concrete can be considered a kind of artificial rock with properties more or less similar to those of natural rocks. It is durable, durable and relatively inexpensive, being almost two centuries the most used building material in the world. But even the concrete is "broken" or worn out at a given time. Here is the concrete that heals itself.

The mixture of bacteria and cement sounds like a structural failure, but this combination could be the "treatment" that could extend the life of buildings, roads and bridges by 40%. Microbiologist Dr. Henk Jonkers, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, has created a highly durable microbial concrete, characteristic of the ability to repair itself, the microstrip being blocked as soon as they appear. These cracks, less than 0.4 mm, generally do not weaken the concrete, but allow the infiltration of water. Water is one of the main "enemies" of concrete. In temperate or cold climates, water causes damage by freezing, expanding concrete cracks. Also, water can carry corrosive agents that weaken concrete strength. "We added a" curative agent "made of bacterial spores -" sleeping bacteria "- and a suitable food, all protected by a membrane. When a crack occurs, that membrane breaks down, releasing the spores and their food. The water entering the crack activates spores, which start to consume food and transform it into limestone, "said Jonkers.
This system has not yet been tested "on the ground" but promises to be effective. Concrete that heals itself could reach the market within four years.

4. Hydrogen DNA

Hydrogels are materials with a highly developed absorption capacity - spongy polymers that can absorb up to 100 times more liquid than their own mass. These are found in certain types of contact lenses or adhesive electrodes applied to the skin at the ECG.
Professor Dan Luo, from Cornell University, USA, has been thinking of combining these hydrogels with synthetic genetic material. The combination was made in the form of letters A, D and N. Once removed from these forms, the hydrogel becomes a mass of amorphous gel, but once the water is poured over, the hydrogel returns to the form in which it was poured.

DNA hydrogels, as they were called, can be used in medicine by applying wounds, where they would be perfectly molded, or in electronics, for some circuit breakers that could be activated by water.

3. Ionic fluids

The salt, heated to 800 degrees, does not get dark and does not smoke but melts in a liquid with the same properties of solid material. To give us an idea about ionic liquids, imagine a salt-like substance, but melting at room temperature. Ionic liquids, unlike hundreds of other solvents used in the chemical industry, do not form vapors. That means they are not toxic or polluting. They also become perfect candles for use as elctrolytic fluids in batteries or photocells.

Ionic liquids are capable of dissolving anything from superb bacteria in hospitals to mercury in extraction gases. A bold application for these liquids is to store hydrogen as a fuel for cars of the future. "In virtually all cases where a conventional liquid is used, it could be replaced by an ionic one, designed to be much better," explains Professor Ken Seddon, co-director of the Liquid Laboratory of Queen's University, Dublin.

2. Graphene

Grafen was discovered in 2010 by two researchers at the University of Manchester. This wonder material is the thinnest of all the materials that have been discovered so far. Scientists find applications weekly in diverse areas, and the number of studies published on graphene has risen in 2012 to more than 10,000.

Graphene is composed entirely of pure carbon, like diamond and carbon, the difference being that the carbon atoms forming the graphene are disposed in bidimensional strips, giving it extraordinary resistances and flexibility. This is the thinnest material discovered so far, with only one atom thickness. This is also the first 2D material discovered by humans. According to Professor Andre Geim of the University of Manchester, co-discoverer of graphene, this material includes a number of impressive superlatives. It is the most resilient known material, the hardest, 300 times stronger than the most flexible steel with the highest surface / mass ratio, one gram of graphene can cover more football fields. The graphene, although almost transparent, is so dense that neither the smallest gas atom (helium) can pass through it. Graphene is also an electric superconductor. It also has unique optical properties.

The areas in which this super-material can be used are infinite, and graphene promises, as they are. At the beginning of 2013, a budget of € 1 billion was earmarked for research in the field, and graphene products have already emerged on the market, including a tennis racket produced by the Australian Head Company.
Are you wondering why graphene does not rank first in this top of the future materials. Until very soon, it should have occupied its leading position, but a new and impressive material has been discovered that you will read further on.

1. Silicone

Researchers at Japan's Advanced Science and Technology Institute have created silicene. "Silicene is the silicone equivalent of graphene," explains Yukiko Yamada-Takamura, a professor at this institute, a world leader in researching this material. Just as graphene is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, silicone is made up of a single layer of silicon atoms.

Graphene and silicone are similar in many respects, but, compared to its carbon dioxide, silicone has a crucial advantage: it is already compatible with already existing silicon based circuits. This means a massive reduction in the time and budget allocated to researching and marketing silicone-based products. Graphene is also out of a different perspective, that of structural flexibility. He can only take one form, perfectly horizontal, "the silicone is flexible and at the atomic scale, meaning some atoms can get out of the way," explains Yamada-Takamura. This translates into the fact that its electrical properties can be varied, which implicitly increases the number of applications.
Although silicone appears to be superior to graphene, it is still far from the glory and popularity it enjoys, as well as the huge number of patent applications made by graphene. But, in many people's opinion, silicone is the one that in the future will have a greater impact on our lives.

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