‘To be equip­ped for the future, you need to know smart mate­ri­als’:
Cata­rina Mota at TED­Glo­bal 2012

 

Catarina Mota at TEDGlobal 2012

Cata­rina Mota has many fri­ends. One of her friend’s fathers, when her fri­end was a kid, built a vehi­cle out of a bicy­cle and washing machine, because the family couldn’t afford a car. Cul­tu­rally, we used to know how to make and fix everything. As the 20th cen­tury pro­gres­sed, we lost that abi­lity, but thanks to the maker com­mu­nity, we are slo­wly get­ting it back. By fos­te­ring the deve­lop­ment and inven­tion of new smart mate­ri­als, Cata­rina hopes to help makers reach the next level.

What are smart mate­ri­als? Fun­da­men­tally, they’re mate­ri­als we are alre­ady incre­di­bly fami­liar with like paint, paper and plas­tic. The trick is, all of these mate­ri­als now come with a twist. Paint and ink, for exam­ple, can now con­duct elec­tri­city such that peo­ple are able to paint cir­cuits with a brush or, with the addi­tion of a mag­net, make a spe­a­ker out of a sheet of paper. Acry­lic, a type of plas­tic, can now be infu­sed with light dif­fu­sing par­ti­cles so light can reflect through its entire sur­face ins­tead of just the edges. What this means prac­ti­cally is, by flip­ping a light switch, you can turn your win­dows from see-through to opa­que. Ther­mo­ch­ro­mic pig­ments can be added to plas­tics so you can see when your baby’s bot­tle is hot. Pos­si­bi­li­ties are beco­ming endless.

Howe­ver, in order to har­ness the full poten­tial of these mate­ri­als, Cata­rina beli­e­ves that we need to have a dee­per unders­tan­ding of the com­po­nents that are making up our world. We need to have a dee­per unders­tan­ding because when we do, we are able to shape the objects we use ins­tead of those objects sha­ping use. Beyond being savvy con­su­mers, by del­ving into tin­ke­ring, we open the doors to inno­va­tion. From moun­tain bikes to air­pla­nes, semi-conductors to com­pu­ters, his­tory has repe­a­te­dly shown that it’s been the ama­teurs who have been the sig­ni­fi­cant inven­tors and impro­vers of the world.

To bols­ter the tin­ke­rers’ abi­lity to cre­ate, Cata­rina co-founded openmaterials.org, a web­site where peo­ple publish infor­ma­tion and aggre­gate rese­arch, papers, and tuto­ri­als by other makers. Her ove­rall mes­sage is sim­ple: draw from the expe­ri­ments of the crowd and unders­tand smart mate­ri­als. Like lear­ning about com­pu­ters in the 1970s, the best way to ensure we have a say in our future is to acquire pre-emptive kno­wledge of emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies now.

Catarina Mota at TEDGlobal 2012

Pho­tos by James Dun­can David­son

VIA [TED Blog]