Stealing Good Ideas: Transmaterials

I read a great article a few years called “Where to Get a Good Idea: Steal It Outside Your Group“. Sociologist Ronald Burt argues that creative ideas aren’t magically created, but rather, they are well-known concepts re-applied in new arenas. Maybe that cool paper punch found in the stationary store will become the next best thing in pizza cutters – all it takes is someone to connect the two. My favorite quote in the article is “People who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas.”

To this end, I enjoy putting myself in that intersection of social worlds. I’ll ask my taxidriver about how he does his job; learn the ins and outs of the starting a small business from my hairdresser friend. Matt Blaze famously applied this when he brought techniques that were well-known among the computer security community to the world of physical locks.

So, I come to one of my favorite little websites: Transmaterial. Every two weeks, it describes an innovative new physical material.

Now, you ask, new materials are useful, but how does that website help the DIY hobbyist?

I love it for two reasons:
1. It exposes me to new ideas outside of my usual sphere.
2. A lot of the new materials seemed to have been formed by the same kind of cross-discipline thinking.

For example, the surface of a Lotus leaf has zillions of tiny bumps to repel water more effectively than a flat surface can. Sure, that’s interesting, but how is it practical? Kenya Hara created a new kind of humidifier by selectively applying a coating that mimics this response to a sheet of paper. The result is a pattern of thousands of tiny drops of water with a greater surface area than found on other humidifiers — leading to more effective evaporation without the need for electricity. Biologists knew about this effect; it took a creative leap to find a use for it in the HVAC world.

So, there’s my first post. I hope to bring you lots of other cool information, but I probably just gave up some of my favorite ideas.