Innovative high-tech materials

Silent Stars exhibition in the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus in Bremen

Pushing boundaries and exploring new places is part of human nature. But the human body is weak and sensitive. Left unprotected, our skin burns after just a short time in the sun, and it disintegrates under water. Humans can’t crack nuts with their teeth or work stone with their fingers. The need to protect ourselves against the elements and to make tools, and the desire to penetrate inhospitable habitats, are just some of the factors that have driven our use of materials and invention of new materials throughout history. And it’s these materials that are the focus of a special new exhibition planned and created by the Steinbeis Transfer Center i/i/d Institute of Integrated Design in Bremen.

Developing new materials and new applications for materials is all about pushing boundaries and extremes. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the depths of the ocean to the edge of space, people never stop wanting to go further, higher, deeper or faster. To do this, they may need materials that are softer, harder, lighter, heavier, smoother, rougher, tougher or more flexible. The Silent Stars: Extreme Materials in Extreme Applications exhibition at the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus in Bremen is dedicated to this topic. Silent Stars focuses on recognizing and showcasing special materials which often remain out of sight despite their outstanding properties, and without which innovative, well-designed high-tech products would be impossible. The collection of over 120 products on show begins with specially designed suits to protect people against cold, heat, pressure or friction – for astronauts, racing drivers, firefighters and extreme athletes. The exhibition also includes a model of the special swimsuit – which has since been banned – that Michael Phelps wore when he set seven world records at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. “He’s too good for this world,” commented Professor Detlef Rahe wryly as he guided a group through the exhibition.

“Bremen Invest” – Bremen Economic Development – commissioned Professor Rahe and his team of Steinbeis experts to curate, design and set up the exhibition. Another highlight of the exhibition was a shape-memory alloy, a metal alloy that remembers its original shape and, after being deformed, returns to it when heated. “Memory metals” like these have a range of applications, including in medicine: They can be used in stents, the small wire structures used to stabilize arteries. Medical technology is a major driver of innovation when it comes to materials – as also exemplified by items such as hydroxylapatite bone screws, which can be used to fix cruciate ligament transplants. Reducing weight and fuel consumption also help drive the development of new high-tech materials and surfaces. A carbon wind turbine blade segment developed by SGL Rotec demonstrated the extreme lightweight construction techniques that will be used in large-scale wind turbines of the future. Similarly, the exhibition also showcased a Tesla electric sports car with roll bars made of ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Also on show: the latest aircraft flap production technologies, plus innovative fuselage surfaces that improve aerodynamics and thus reduce the fuel consumption of Airbuses. Environmental considerations such as waste reduction, reusability, recyclability and compostability are also major drivers of innovative materials and applications. To reflect this, the exhibition also displayed the latest biodegradable organic materials that can even be composted. These are generally made from granulates that frequently contain a high proportion of starch. They can already be used in conventional injection molding without the need to invest in new production methods. The exhibition also presented translucent concrete, a surprising and ingenious combination of fiber-optic cables and lightweight concrete set to open up new possibilities in architecture. Also on show: the Inox-Spectral process, which can be used to produce colored, rustproof stainless steel without the need for any paints or dyes. With such a wide range of materials and applications being presented, the exhibition was lively and interesting, and met with an extremely positive reception both from people in the materials field and the general public. Over 5,000 people visited the exhibition, not including the many special guided tours, lectures and evening events that also formed part of the program. In recognition of its success, the Silent Stars exhibition even won the highly sought-after iF communication design award 2011 and was nominated for the German Design Award.

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