Buildings may one day wear biological "skins"

Engineers, design architects and cell biologists from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, are using a $2 million, four-year National Science Foundation grant to study human cells as the models for next-generation building "skins," according to Popular Science.

The grant will be used to study the adaptability and resiliency of human cells—not just skin cells but all types of cells—which could lead to a new method of sustainable building design. The team is hoping the study will pave the way for adaptable skins for buildings that can respond to heat, humidity and light—similar to the way human skin is responsive and can adapt to disease, water loss and radiation.

"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," says Shu Yang, the university's professor of materials science and engineering.

The scientists are trying to determine how cells use chemical and physical reactions to change the geometry of their surrounding environments so they can translate it to building design. The goal is to create structures that one day automatically could respond to environmental factors the way human skin does.

Date : 10/8/2010