The GFL’s “self-assembling cities” becoming reality?

Living concrete created at CU Boulder

In the Galactic Football League series, there are several artificial planetoids that house millions of sentient beings. These planetoids (called “Orbital Stations” by their creators and owners, the Quyth Concordia) have underground cities that grow themselves. Buildings, streets — and, yes, even football stadiums — spring up from a microscopic organism that forms hard structures, along the lines of a coral reef.

In THE ROOKIE, GFL Book I, Quentin Barnes travels to OS1 to take on the Orbiting Death in a key divisional matchup. Quentin has never seen an orbital station before, and marvels at the miles-high spires sticking out of the planetoid. One of Quentin’s teammates — a native of OS1 — explains to him the technology behind the structures:

The spikes are a life form. A silica-based organism that grows in a dense crystalline matrix. They are like bacteria. They grow, feed, and reproduce in numbers beyond comprehension. Only the outside of the spike is alive — the inside is nothing but dead skeletons, but it is incredibly dense and hard. The crystalline structure gives it the strength to reach such massive heights.
Virak the Mean in THE ROOKIE, GFL Book I

Flash backward 660 years (to today, natch) and we can see the beginnings of a similar technology that may soon change everything we know about construction.

Dr. Will Srubar and his team at the Colorado University Boulder have created a “living cement” out of sand, gelatin and — you guessed it — bacteria. To quote from an article by Josh Rhoten at CU Engineering Magazine, Srubar describes the tech this way:

We know bacteria grow at an exponential rate, so rather than manufacturing bricks one-by-one, you may be able to make one brick and have it split into two, then four, and so on. That would revolutionize not only what we think of a structural material, but also how we fabricate structural materials at an exponential scale.
Wil Srubar, Asst Professor, Materials Science & Engineering at CU Boulder

Wil Srubar and his team are building self-growing, self-repairing concrete

Wil Srubar (center) and team on the cover of CU Engineering magazine.

Srubar’s work is part of a DARPA research initiative. An entertaining part of their work is the name of the project: Programmable Resurrection of Materials Engineered to Heal Exponentially Using Switches. That spells our PROMETHEUS, a tip of the hat to Mary Shelly’s work FRANKENSTEIN: THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. If you weren’t aware that this ground-breaking work novel (written in 1818) was the basis for the famed Frankenstein, now you know.

In the GFL series, the cities in OS1, OS2, OS3 (and possibly even the lost world of OS4) all feature cities made almost entirely of this self-growing crystal/bacteria/coral material. Each planetoid has its own species of bacteria, engineered for whatever raw material is most readily available. While at OS3 the tech has been nearly perfected, the residents of Madderch — a city inside the original planetoid OS1 — have a constant problem on their hands: the material’s growth rate is nearly uncontrollable.

Madderch sat nestled inside a sprawling blue dome. Massive blue-tinted crystals reached out from inside the dome, curving around themselves and intertwining with each other like some unfathomable concave beard.

The city’s buildings were mostly made from the same blue metallic material, an organic substance that seemed bubbly, almost as if it was made by pouring water down a wall and letting it freeze, layer by layer, into a thick sheet of ice. Trimming maintenance vehicles, both flying and crawling, were always in motion, cutting away at spiraling growths that stuck out from buildings, streets, and even from the long connections that linked the buildings together. Some of the buildings towered so high the eye and mind had trouble reconciling it, trouble making sense of top floors that were almost a half-mile above ground level.

The living crystal didn’t limit itself to well-defined buildings. Spires, spurs, and branches reached from building to building, curving over alleys, streets, even stretching out so far they arched over entire blocks. There were so many connections that by three or four blocks away, the buildings all looked like parts of an enormous sponge.

Would you like to know more about this scifi tech? Here’s a few links to coverage in other sites:
• This Regenerative Building Material is Made From Sand and Bacteria Discover Magazine
Self-healing bacteria bricks could help us build on the moon or Mars CNET
• ‘Living bricks’ that can reproduce could cut construction’s carbon footprint Chemistry World

Living bricks created by CU Boulder

An example of CU Boulder’s organic(ish) material.
Photo © College of Engineering and Applied Science at Colorado University Boulder.

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