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Ancient materials also inspire the creation of new materials !

par Bénédicte Charbonnel - publié le

The study of materials from art, archaeology and palaeontology is essential to elucidate the origin and evolution of life on Earth, measure the impact of human activities on climate and environment and to testify from past Human activities. The idea that modern physics and chemistry provide tools and methodologies to study the composition and properties of ancient materials is nowadays obvious. It is however less common to analyse the potential of ancient material to inspire the design of novel chemical and material systems or devices.

An international team of researchers has thus decided to demonstrate that new materials can emerge from the in-depth study of the exceptional properties of ancient materials. They named this concept paleo-inspiration. In an article entitled « Paleo-inspired systems : Durability, Sustainability and Remarkable Properties » and published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Loïc Bertrand (Director of IPANEMA), Claire Gervais (Professor of materials chemistry at Bern University of the Arts and lecturer at EPFL), Admir Masic (Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT) and Luc Robbiola (CNRS research engineer at TRACES laboratory of Toulouse University) present a review of recent works illustrating the diversity of ancient materials’ properties and the potential of paleo-inspiration to develop more durable and resilient new materials and to limit their environmental impact.

The study of material preservation over time provides indeed examples of the physico-chemical resilience of materials to environmental conditions. Like Roman concrete or Maya blue that decorates frescoes and sculptures, ancient materials can inspire the development of modern materials more resistant to time and environmental conditions. Many of these ancient materials also testify of adaptation strategies to specific environments and constraints and were produced by a soft and energy-saving industry, often using rudimentary equipment. Using the resources and knowledge at their disposal, past societies have also developed materials optimized towards specific functions with remarkable properties. This is particularly the case for pigments synthesized at the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres. Better understanding these remarkable properties is thus a source of of inspiration for modern materials.

These works have also been honoured in Le Monde. Nathaniel Herzberg’s well-documented article "Palaeo-inspiration : when the past invents the future" is the headline of the Science & Medicine section of Le Monde dated 22 November 2017.

Publication reference :
Bertrand, L., Gervais, C., Masic, A. and Robbiola, L., Paleo-inspired systems : Durability, Sustainability and Remarkable Properties. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/anie.201709303
Available online here

To see the article in Le Monde :
Herzberg, N., « Paléo-inspiration : quand le passé invente le futur », Le Monde, 21 novembre 2017
Available online here


Image :

Trajan’s market in Roma, an example of paleo-inspiration. Credits : jebulon via Wikimedia Commons


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