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Environment, Innovation, News, Featurable
According to a new UBC study, mushrooms could take up a new role as sustainable building material. Who could imagine mushrooms in their furniture? In a cutting-edge design project, six new stylish benches have been placed outside the UBC bookstore, assembled from light-coloured honeycomb-shaped bricks. These bricks are then placed under a top of clear acrylic. The bricks are very much alive, grown from a mix of Oyster mushroom spores and alder sawdust packed into moulds. Assistant professor at UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Joe Dahmen, and his partner in work and life, Amber frid-Jimenez, Canada research Chair in Design and Technology at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, came up with this design when expecting their second child. While working on an architectural installment made of fabricated polystyrene blocks — which are not the most benign material —  they decided to look into more eco-friendly options. “Amber couldn’t get near the thing because it was so toxic,” Dahmen said. “It got me thinking that there must be a more natural material that would still enable a similar range of expression.”

In their search, Dahmen and Frid-Jimenez discovered the world of mycelium biocomposites. The product is a resistant material with qualities similar to polystyrene foams. Mycelium bicomposites are at risk of contamination by mould and bacteria if they are over half-metre in thickness. To overcome this obstacle, Dahmen created a new process inspired from the wasps’ nest. “I was really amazed at the honeycomb structure, because it’s a highly efficient way of occupying space,” he said. “It’s scalable, it can go in any direction, and it’s extremely spatially efficient.” “Their biggest application in the long run is in architecture and construction,” said Dahmen. “The average age of commercial buildings in North America is under 40 years. If we could imagine construction materials that add positive value to ecosystems as they break down, we have a whole new paradigm for the way we approach buildings, at a time when we’re demolishing most buildings long before they wear out.” According to Dahmen mycelium bicomposites could be used instead of polystyrene, from packaging to building insulation. “Styrofoam is a material that functions for a short amount of time as packaging, and then spends hundreds, if not thousands, of years in a landfill,” he added. Mycelium bicomposites not only require less energy to grow but also completely decompose when composted. They also help break down other materials in the waste stream and make them accessible to other organisms. An American company recently signed a contract to supply Ikea with mycelium-based packaging.  The method had yet to be done in Canada.

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Technology, Innovation
More than three billion people don’t have Internet access across the globe – imagine connecting to the web just by attaching a thin panel to the back of a tablet. Professor George Eleftheriades and his team in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering have created a metamaterial surface – an engineered material not found in nature. This surface focuses electromagnetic waves into a concentrated beam optimizing the way antenna works. The work was originally published in the journal “Nature Communications.” The prototype is an inexpensive, thin antenna similar to a patterned ceiling tile allowing the transmission of a signal, such as broadband internet directly from space. “The beams that come off of this surface are like lasers – we can send this energy very far, maybe even all the way to a satellite in orbit,” said Eleftheriades in a statement. A typical satellite requires a tripod-shaped structure at its centre, helping maintain a certain distance from the surface to focus beams. The satellite therefore results in a bulky and large set up. The leading-edge technology in the new design makes a thin, flat and uniformly illuminated antenna compared to a bulky rooftop satellite dish. “With this design, we’ve optimized the way the antenna works to overcome the traditional compromise between the size of low-profile aperture antennas, and the strength of their beams,” said Eleftheriades. Currently their structure is two centimetres thick, and their goal is to design a thinner and more sharply focused panel. “Many companies are working toward providing Internet to the rest of the world,” explained Eleftheriades. “They’re looking for low-cost, low-profile, antennas to communicate with statellites, and they have to be portable. We think this design is a step toward that.”
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Technology, Politics, Innovation
Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver is a timely and provocative exploration of the future of Vancouver as a response to the mounting concern on the changes taking place in the region, shifting the dialogue  from real estate  to the future state of the city. Thus, Urbanarium Society in partnership with the Museum of Vancouver (MOV)  will bring  an exhibition that will feature 20 different scenarios of Vancouver’s future landscape, while engaging the public to discuss four exceptionally pressing issues:  housing affordability, residential density, ease of transportation and quality of public space. The exhibition will take place from Jan. 21 through May 16, 2016 at the MOV. Organizers at the museum expect to welcome a few thousands attending Your Future Home throughout its duration. Urbanarium is a non-for-profit educational organization, created 30 years ago by architect and planner, Ray Spaxman, who was  inspired by  a then-newly opened planetarium in Toronto. He  envisioned  a place where people can  gather and have discussions about the future of the city and the region, as well as  exhibitions, lectures and workshops,  where visitors can learn about design and urban planning. After some inactivity, in 2013 Spaxman and  a group of architects,  planners and volunteers —  including, renowned Vancouver-based architect  Richard Henriquez, chairman of the board of directors–  revived Urbanarium.  Still a virtual space, Urbanarium’s website was launched a year later. “This  is by far, one of our  most ambitious programs yet, along with the debate series,” says  Jamaican-born Henriquez in a phone interview. He arrived first in Manitoba as a teenager  in the late 1950s, but has called Vancouver home since 1967. This exhibition aims  to expose the city’s  issues and “get people thinking about the choices that might have to make in the future as time goes on”. Henriquez  is the founding partner of Henriquez Partners Architects, recipient of numerous accolades, and the creative force behind iconic estructures, such as the Gaslight Square, the New Westminster’s Justice Institute of BC and the Sinclair Centre.

Exhibition

Your future home exhibition will feature  a 1,400-square-foot model, a sort of a real estate “sales centre,” advertising new condominiums. “Except that instead of showing off one building, we are showing off the whole city. (…) It’s a miniature model of Vancouver, ” Henriquez explained. This model will include photographs, infographics, animations, dramatic models, panoramic images relating to Vancouver’s downtown and suburban neighbourhoods. Visitors will have the opportunity to discuss the future scenarios, offer feedback and propose new solutions. The second part introduces about 20 different scenarios focused on ideas  about ways to improves  the city in the future. “They have to do with  affordability, public open space, transportation  and increasing density, which is a big concern for a lot of people.” Some of the case studies will also include the Arbutus Lands redevelopment, the  expansion of the CPR line to Marpole, possible changes in  Granville Island, and new ways of  heating buildings in the Downtown area and sustainability issues. One of the future scenarios will feature a 2,500-foot vertical city as a three-dimensional model, a representation of Granville Street turned on end to run vertically, to be displayed in the “Urban Grid.’ It’s a lesson about  scale and people’s  changing notions of scale over time. Among the various topics, high sky home prices is certainly the most urgent issue in Vancouver. “There  is a lot of pressure from outside people to get housing,”  says  Henriquez.  A foreign investor can buy six or eight apartments at a time  – most likely to remain empty. “Vancouver is like a bank (…)  It’s a safe place to park money.”  Henriquez says he thinks it’s the federal government’s responsibility to look into this matter. On a municipal level,  the City of Vancouver and developers are working together to create affordable  housing in the benefit of low-income individuals.  Developers are allowed to build condominiums at a higher density than usual, in exchange the City will get 20% of the suites for free. From an architectural point of view — although Henriquez doesn’t advocate for it — miniaturization of suites is another option. “In designs with very small spaces, everything is multiuse, so you can shrink the space and still live in.” Debates During the exhibition, members of the public will have the chance to participate in six Oxford-style  debates  among architectural, real estate and urban planning experts, by casting their votes with mobile devices. The debates  will take place at the Robson Square, except for first one to be held at  the MOV  on January 20th (Free admission by donation –currently sold out), which will focus on densification of neighbourhoods.  The debates will be a yearly affair, depending on their success. For more information visit: MOV’s website.  
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Science, Innovation
Are you a student or have a child in Grade 7 to 12? Students are encouraged to apply and present their projects in their school-run science fair where teachers will select students to represent their school at the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair in April, 2016. About 350 students will present their projects at the GVRSF. Projects will include areas of discovery, health, energy, innovation, environment and resources. Top cash prices are valued at over $30,000, other awards will include travel awards, scholarships and trophies – 17 students will also earn spots to the 2016 Canada-Wide Science Fair. Three types of projects will be accepted: experiment – an investigation to test a scientific hypothesis; innovation – the development and evaluation of innovative technology, models or techniques; study: a collection and analysis of data revealing evidence of a situation or fact, or a study of cause and effect relationships or theoretical investigation. Application deadline is at 3:00pm March 8, 2016. For more information on registration and application guidelines click here.
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Technology, Innovation
You can now buy a computer for the price of one beer. The UK-based Raspberry Pi Foundation – a charity promoting the study of basic computer science to schools – announced the Raspberry Pi Zero, a tiny computer at the cost of $5 USD or about $7 CDN. The first one they first announced was about $33 CDN.
CEO of Raspberry Pi Eben Upton said in a video when he was a child, the high cost of computers where a real barrier for him trying to learn about computers, ”really what we are trying to do with Raspberry Pi is to make sure that cost is never going to be a barrier to anyone who is interested in getting involved in coding.” The tiny computer has half a gig a ram, an HDMI connector, and SD card and USB slot – allowing users to connect a keyboard, screen and mouse. It also runs applications like Minecraft, Scratch and Sonic Pi. Raspberry PI has manufactured several tens of thousands Raspberry Pi Zero units so far. As much as Eben would like to provide free computers, he says they aren’t going to go any cheaper in the foreseeable future, “we’ve gone from the cost of, let’s say four lattes to one latte.”
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Sustainability, Science, Innovation
Hannah Herbst, 15, from Boca Raton, Florida, might just be one of North America’s top young scientists. She won first place in the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientists Challenge along with a $25,000 prize – for creating an energy prototype probe that converts ocean currents into energy for just $12 – placing first out of nine other finalists. Herbst’s probe is made up of low-cost recycle materials creating a hydroelectric generator with a propeller – able to power a small LED light system. “I really want to end the energy poverty crisis and really help the other methods of renewable energy collection to generate more power and to make our world a better place for everyone,” Herbst says. She made the probe seeking to create a stable power source to developing countries by using ocean currents. It was inspired by Herbst’s desire to help her 9-year-old pen pal living in Ethiopia who lacks a reliable energy source. Marine current power is not widely used at the moment, but it has potential for electricity generation in the future. Marine currents are more predicable that solar and wind power. A 2006 report by the United States Department of the Interior estimated that capturing that 1/1000th of the available energy in the Gulf Stream would supply Florida with 35% of its electrical needs.
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Environment, Science, Innovation
You can now grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and even rainforest in your own home. BioPod is the world’s first Smart Microhabitat – just tap the environment you wish to have on the BioPod App and it will produce the conditions necessary to create it. The tank comes with an IOS and Android app – through your phone you can regulate lighting, humidity, temperature and rainfall. The BioPod also comes with a high definition camera allowing users to check in on what’s happening while they’re away. Currently, three versions of the tank are in development: The Biopod One is suitable for vegetables, herbs and small animals; the BioPod Terra is the same, but of a larger size; and finally, the BioPod Aqua, which works like an ecosystem designed for plants and fish – it uses fish and fish waste in combination with plants to grown food. The BioPod was created by Canadian biologist and BioPod Founder Jared Wolfe, with the purpose of mimicking a rainforest environment to help save endangered frogs from extinction. The company states their vision on their website: “to bring a community of plant and animals lovers together in order to solve some of earth’s conservation and sustainability issues.”
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