Scientists want to make skin-like buildings to improve energy efficiency

Scientists are inspired by nature to construct smarter buildings. We want the buildings to act like skin.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Geckos have inspired a new breed of electronics, the eyes of flies can improve solar cell surfaces, and money made with butterfly colors would prevent bank fraud.

University of Pennsylvania researchers want buildings to be more like the human body. If buildings were designed to behave like human cells, we'd have more sustainable buildings.

Our skin keeps us comfortable by adapting to our environment around us. It has a remarkable ability to renew itself, protect us from disease, and regulate our internal temperature.

So what if you could give buildings the same functionality as skin? The buildings would certainly be more energy efficient.

But how does one make a building as responsive as human skin?

With sensors and imaging tools, the researchers believe bio-mimetic designs are possible. With $2 million in funding, the Pennsylvania researchers are on their way to creating buildings that act like human cells.

"Through analyzing several of the body's functions — how human pulmonary artery vascular smooth muscle cells contract or relax, for example -- we will attempt to transfer this fine-scale design ecology to the macro-scale design of adaptive building skins," Pennsylvania engineer Shu Yang said in a statement.

"Our hope is that buildings may one day respond to environmental factors like heat, humidity and light and respond to them most efficiently."

Smart buildings are on their way. In a separate project, MIT researchers are converting carbon dioxide into building materials. The researchers drew inspiration for the yeast-powered process by looking at marine animals (specifically the sea snail).

Normally, yeast don't react on their own. They have to be engineered to do so.

The genetically engineered baker's yeast produced carbonate that can be converted into solid material — without toxic chemicals, heating, or cooling.

Like the Pennsylvania researchers, the process developed at MIT was inspired by a biological system.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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