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Nick Wakeman

Lockheed looks to nature in $10M research effort

Let’s file this in the off-beat but pretty cool category. Maybe a little geeky too.

Lockheed Martin is working with the Army Research Laboratory to take cells and use them as building blocks for novel materials.

Their work is primarily focused on new materials to improve defense optical technology and coatings.

“Cells efficiently create all sorts of materials, like a spider’s silk or a butterfly’s iridescent wings. We want to harness nature’s process to better protect people,” Melissa Rhoads, Lockheed senior research manager and lead for the project, said in a company release. “Biodesign exists today, but it doesn’t exist at the scale and to the quality of defense standards.”

Biodesign is the intersection of biology and technology. Lockheed sees potential to bring the materials work to a more precise level. To mature the concept, Lockheed is working with the Army Research Lab and companies such as Ginkgo Bioworks.

Researchers are looking to nature for inspiration such as the way a squid filters and focuses light and how melanin in humans and animals can provide protection from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“We can’t manufacture that kind of capability, so Lockheed Martin will try nature’s way,” Rhoads said. “Harnessing the power of self-assembling materials is sustainable, affordable and can be much faster to produce than artificial methods.

"As much potential there is for biodesign, the maturity of the materials technology is still low, so our five-year study will advance this field significantly for precision science.”

The $10 million, five-year agreement goes by the name Self-Assembly of Nanostructures for Tunable Materials. They will use the Army’s Open Campus model to collaborate with universities, small business and other scientists and engineers.

I’ve always been a Star Trek fan so this kind of stuff -- even if I can’t understand the science -- is what makes me excited about the future my kids will grow up in.

That’s for indulging my geek moment of the day.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 26, 2019 at 12:50 PM

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