Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Bamboo and Technology

Notions of using bamboo as a building material are well known. For centuries bamboo has been used for constructing homes, making flooring and making thatching for roofs. When I first went to Thailand I spent several weeks living in a small bungalow on concrete stilts made mostly of bamboo. This was probably my earliest exposure to just how useful bamboo was.

Since the industrial revolution and the preference for using steel and concrete for building many developing countries still use bamboo to make scaffolding for larger construction projects. It is strong, easy to transport or make locally and most importantly bamboo is cheap.

Over the last 30 years or so, people have begun to worry more about indoor air quality as well as making homes more environmentally friendly. For primarily these two reasons bamboo flooring was introduced to a large worldwide market. Today, bamboo flooring is found in many homes and is an important sustainable flooring option. Sales of bamboo flooring have increased since the more durable and harder strand woven bamboo flooring has been available.

Another fairly well known bamboo technological innovation is the bamboo bicycle. Bamboo has a tensile strength of 52,000 pounds per square inch. This makes it more than strong enough to be used as the frame for a bicycle.

What is less well known is that Thomas Edison made his first lamp filament from carbonized bamboo. Another surprising bamboo fact is that Alexander Bell used a bamboo stylus for the first ever phonograph. Bamboo is hard enough and can be made into a fine enough point to be used to amplify sound. However, diamond was later found out by Bell to make a better stylus.

What these bamboo and technology facts help to illustrate is the diverse properties of the plant. It is strong, flexible and can be worked like wood. It can be compressed into strand woven bamboo. Since bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world it should be obvious that we need to incorporate it more into technology, especially as other natural resources become scarcer. Indeed, as the price for various natural resources rise bamboo will no doubt come to the mind of new scientific pioneers in the mold of Edison and Bell. 


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