Materials are something we rarely think about even though it is all around us. From the cotton and polyester used to create the clothes we wear to the glass screens we stare at every second of the day. Materials are the cornerstone of life and we would most definitely not be in the modern, technological age of today without them.
But where do we get our ideas and inspiration from for creating new materials? You’re probably thinking nature, and you’d be right. But in today’s age where we’d much rather watch the latest superhero film or play some awesome game rather than going on a hike, our inspiration comes from the fictional.
In Black Panther, Shuri (my new favourite fictional genius) creates a brand new suit for T’Challa using the vibranium metal found only in Wakanda. The suit uses the principles of nanotechnology to create a vibranium microweave suit with various abilities, for example absorbing all kinetic energy (punches, grenades, bullets, etc.) to be used later for a massive area blast. Apart from the suit, this metal is used to enhance all their technologies, making it the most technologically advanced country in the fictional world.
Neal Stephenson, a very popular sci-fi author, describes in Anathem “newmatter” a material which is very versatile allowing it to change its shape, texture and other properties with only the person’s hands. The main character uses primarily three objects made of this matter: a bolt (fancy word for a piece of clothing), a chord (rope used to keep the bolt in place) and a sphere (a balloon, their version of a swiss army knife, which can change size, shape and hardness).
In Mass Effect, there are individuals who have biotic abilities due to their exposure of element zero in utero. The element zero is embedded in their body tissue and can be accessed and augmented by means of implants. Biotic abilities allow them to knock down or lift enemies from a distance, generate a singularity (gravitational vortex) to tear apart objects or enemies or create a protective barrier.
And these are only a few examples. You can find thousands more by scouring the comic book and sci-fi (movies, novels and games) archives. And don’t forget to take a break every now and then to find some inspiration from nature, there are many interesting inspirations for smart and advanced materials to be discovered. This is the kind of stuff that peaks my interest and gets me excited. Who doesn’t want to help create future sci-fi-like materials and the new generation of superheroes.
Now obviously the scope is just too massive to contribute to it all and if I were an Asari (a Mass Effect all female race that lives for centuries) I would be able to do it all. But alas, I’m a mere human with the disadvantage of only having a few productive decades. So I’ve had to narrow my scope a bit, which turned out to be quite easy. I decided to combine my love of programming and my excitement of materials to focus my research efforts in computational materials modelling.