Material World: 8 Substances That Will Shape the Future

Advancements in science and technology have opened up a whole new world of possibilities in material science. Our future world won’t be made up of the same materials we are used to seeing today – it will be full of fascinating new stuff that can do truly incredible things.

Cell phone towers are generally big and unsightly, but since we want to be perpetually connected they seem to be a necessity…for now. The Spray-On Antenna System from ChamTech can turn just about any surface into an antenna. In the coming decades, ugly cell phone towers could easily give way to nearly unnoticeable antennae that take the form of buildings, trees or billboard poles painted with this amazing spray.

Food packaging is meant to keep our foods fresh and sanitary, but it is a leading source of waste in the world’s landfills. What if our packaged foods came in edible wrappers, just like fruits and vegetables do? Wikicells are edible food packaging invented by a Harvard professor who wants to turn the packaging industry on its head. The concept involves a very thin biodegradable shell surrounding a more robust edible shell, inside of which would sit the food or beverage. The thin shell could be removed and composted, then the thicker shell could be eaten along with the food inside or composted as well – and just like that, plastic food packaging could become obsolete.

If you find yourself constantly spilling food on your clothes or dropping your phone in the toilet, NeverWet is one of those futuristic products you’ll want to stock up on as soon as possible. It’s a superhydrophobic spray that causes liquids, ice, dirt, bacteria and basically everything else to simply roll right off of treated surfaces. It keeps clothes and shoes clean, but that’s not the limit of NeverWet’s talents. It can also keep house siding clean, prevent rust on outdoor equipment and keep bathrooms free of bacteria.

Protecting yourself from daily bumps and bruises will be easier in the future when all of your clothes are made of Deflexion. This futuristic material is light and flexible like regular fabric ordinarily, but when hit with an impact it suddenly becomes as tough as body armor. If a rogue baseball comes flying at you during a game, for example, the fabric instantly hardens at the point of impact to protect you from the force. Then just as quickly, it goes back to being regular, flexible fabric.

Petroleum-based plastics are used in so many of the products we enjoy every day, but they are not at all healthy for the planet. A new type of plastic-like material called Arboform could be used in the same ways as traditional plastics but with a much lower environmental impact. Arboform is made of waste products left over from the production of paper mixed with natural resins. It’s just as durable and versatile as petroleum-based plastics but it’s biodegradable and recyclable.

Spray-on liquid glass has been available in Germany and the UK for a few years, but it still hasn’t gained worldwide popularity. At first this seems puzzling, since the ultra-thin silicon dioxide coating could do everything from making clothing stain-proof to keeping restaurant and hospital surfaces sterile for months. But perhaps one reason that this product is not yet in every home in the developed world is that it makes cleaning products nearly obsolete. This impressive quality may be enough to keep some stores from agreeing to stock it since one bottle of liquid glass could keep surfaces protected for up to a year.

The unusual structure above is home to a colony of sandcastle worms, a type of marine worm that secretes glue to build complex underwater structures. A synthetic version of this glue could one day take the place of metal rods and pins in people who experience severe bone breaks. Rather than pinning the pieces of bone back together, doctors could use this biological glue to hold the shards in shape and let them mend.

Cracks in sidewalks, streets and concrete buildings are not just unsightly; they’re downright dangerous. One proposed solution is to do away with repair crews in favor of self-healing concrete. There are several types under development, but this one is called BacillaFilla after the type of bacteria used to “grow” new concrete in cracks. Using quorum sensing to figure out when they reach the bottom of a crack, the bacteria form quick and sturdy repairs that can prolong the life of the damaged concrete.