From spaceships to your kitchen: how high tech enters our daily lives
Some industries are as far away from the mundane as it gets. However, cutting-edge research eventually makes its way into our homes. Let’s look at the examples of such journeys.
Sneakers from outer space
It is hard to draw a connection between everyday life and the high-tech industries: aerospace and defense, which are full of cutting-edge research, sophisticated technologies, and high-performance materials.
Discoveries and inventions in these spheres happen without considering our basic needs, but they seem to seep through to our daily lives inevitably.
For example, magnetic nail polish, which twirls in hypnotic patterns, is a ferrofluid: a liquid with suspended metal particles, which can be manipulated with a magnet. NASA developed this technology to control liquid fuel in zero gravity, which makes it float.
But there are many more fascinating stories: a material from German warplanes ends up as a faux-leather jacket; the cushioning of a seat in a space shuttle becomes soft sneakers; an alloy designed for a naval weapon effectively straightens teeth.
Moreover, innovation is often driven by a human desire to be chaotic and disorganized—as we sometimes are in the comfort of our homes.
What’s later: we’ll explore how these discoveries perform in essential areas of human life. We will find out how military technologies make our homes better, how clothing is made from advanced materials, and how NASA research can accidentally bring innovation to healthcare.
One unexpected thing to exist as a result of the defense industry research is an ordinary dish sponge. Of course, it wasn’t created specifically for the army. However, dish sponges are polyurethane—a polymer first used as a coating on military aircraft.
Polyurethane is a polymer—a molecule that consists of smaller units called monomers. However, the name of the polymer (like polyethylene or polystyrene) usually comes from their monomer (like ethylene or styrene). Polyurethane is quite different.
What makes it unique is that polyurethanes are, in fact, a wide range of materials with different properties: hard or soft, rigid or flexible. Thus, the name comes not from a specific monomer but from one particular kind of link called a “urethane group.”
A German chemist Otto Bayer inadvertently created the first polyurethane in 1937 when trying to recreate nylon, patented by Americans. The new material was named “Perlon U”: it was similar to nylon but stiffer.