Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Magnus Larsson on Turning Dunes into Architecture

This was one of the more remarkable talks given at the TED Global Conference at Oxford in 2009. Magnus Larsson is still a student in architecture at University College London. He heard about a team at the University of California at Davis which had been studying how to apply the microorganism bacillus pasteurii to solidify the ground in earthquake-prone areas. This remarkable bacterium
lives between sand grains and in soils. Research by Professor Jason DeJong and his colleagues at the University of California at Davis and the University of Massachusetts have shown that the bacterium causes calcite, or calcium carbonate, to precipitate, which glues the grains together. Inject sand with cultures of these bacteria, feed them well, provide oxygen and a source of calcium, and they will turn loose sand into solid rock. As DeJong says, "Starting from a sand pile, you turn it back into sandstone."
Magnus Larsson describes in the video below his project to use the properties of this bacterium to build a "Great Wall" across the southern Sahara Desert. The wall would provide shelter for nomads and wildlife while simultaneously acting as a natural barrier to protect against the destructive sandstorms of the region. As he describes it: "All I did was to deliberately misapply their technology ... and to pump up the scale, and turn it into a 6,000-km-long wall that's made of sand and protects against sand."

You may read more about Magnus Larsson and his project in the link provided above, as well as at this page. His talk may be downloaded from this page. It is a brilliant example of adapting nature to improve nature.

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