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Week in Tech: Building on Mars with Chitin | Architect Magazine

Plus, bricks from cigarette butts, Greenland is losing its ice sheet, and more design-tech news from the week.

Javier G. Fernandez, 2020. CC-BY
Javier G. Fernandez, 2020. CC-BY

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Chitin—a polymer found in fungi and in arthropod exoskeletons, like shrimp shells—is one of the most abundant organic materials on Earth, but researchers want to tap into its potential on Mars. With organizations, including NASA, planning a crewed mission to the Red Planet as early as 2030, scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design began investigating how “bioinspired chitinous manufacturing” could be easily deployed by explorers inhabiting the limited Mars ecosystem. As explained in their recent Plos One publication “Martian Biolith: A Bioinspired Regolith Composite for Closed-Loop Extraterrestrial Manufacturing,” the researchers developed a new, chitinous material by combining chitosan, a sugar derived from exoskeletons, with a mineral mimicking Martian soil. The resulting chitinous mix could be used by astronauts to manufacture tools and rigid shelters on Mars. “We approach the problem of staying on Mars from a bioinspired perspective by replicating chitinous bioinspired manufacturing developed for the production of sustainable manufacturing on Earth,” the authors wrote. “The resulting Martian biolith and its associated chemistry involve Martian regolith simulant, ubiquitous biomolecules, and water-based solvents that are easily integrated into any ecological cycle(s) and avoids the need for complex polymer synthesis, shipping of specialized equipment, or dedicated feedstock..” [Plos One]

With many plastics too expensive to recycle, an international team of researchers has developed a mutant enzyme that breaks down PET plastic, which is found in the 1 million disposable water bottles sold every minute worldwide. The researchers modified a version of the PETase enzyme, improving its ability to “eat” PET, which naturally degrades the plastic in the environment. “It’s incredible because [the research] tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimized,” lead author John McGeehan said in a release from the University of Portsmouth. “It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development and make a super-fast enzyme.” [University of Portsmouth]

The New York–based 3D printing manufacturer MakerBot has released its 2020 3D printing trends report, aiming “to identify the 3D printing behaviors and preferences of professionals across different sectors.” The report found an overall increase in the number of people using 3D printing, as the technology has become more accessible for smaller manufacturers and businesses. Cost and a required technical expertise proved the top barriers to individuals using the technology; however, 74% of respondents said that they would invest in 3D printing technology in 2021, even in the current economic crisis. 90% of the respondents were male, with only 6% female and 4% other , with 68% of users most frequently employing 3D printing technology to produce low- to mid-volume parts. [MakerBot]

Read on >>>> Source: Architect Week in Tech: Building on Mars with Chitin | Architect Magazine

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