From living building materials to printed organs

Some of the most interesting classes work on topics that leave you with a sense that the future is now. Many of the articles Edmund Palermo’s Biology in Materials Science class worked on leave you with that sensation.

A mycelium-based composite material.
A mycelium-based composite material. Karana et al., CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Living building materials are building materials that mimic properties of living organisms. These include compounds like self-replicating concrete, self-mending biocement, and composite building materials based on fungal mycelium. Self-replicating concrete consists of a sand and hydrogel scaffold which bacteria grow on. As the bacteria grow, they produce calcium carbonate which binds the mixture together into a material with properties very similar to standard concrete while also fixing atmospheric carbon dioxide (in contrast to normal concrete production, which releases large quantities of CO2). Self-healing biocement on the other hand is a material that relies bacteria to heal cracks that form in concrete, producing a longer-lasting concrete. Mycelium-based composites can substitute for petroleum-based packing foams, insulation material and bricks. The article was just a three-sentence stub when students from the class got to work expanding the article.

Organ printing is an exciting technology that’s at the threshold of viability. Using 3D printing to produce a matrix for the organ that could then be seeded with human cells from the intended recipient has the potential to meet demand for organ transplants. Students from the class were able to expand and update the article and add information about different techniques and applications for printed organs. But just as importantly, they added information about the legal and ethical implications of organ printing that were absent from the article.

Nanosponges are porous nanoparticles that can be used to absorb small amounts of material. They can be used to absorb toxins or deliver drugs in the body, or to absorb pollutants in the environment. Students in the class rewrote the short Wikipedia article almost entirely, expanding it to include detailed, informative content about a whole host of applications. They also made sure to address the limitations of nanosponges, something that the original article neglected to mention.

Other groups of students from the class expanded a variety of other topics including Bouligand structureshemicellulose, and the Bionic Leaf. Another group created a new article about artificial ligaments. The student editors in this class didn’t just add more and better content about these topics, they also added important information about ethical concerns and limitations of these technological advances. Frequently, articles about technological advances are written by people who are excited by the optimism around these topics or have some stake in them. Student editors who are learning about a topic in an environment that stresses benefits and limitations are well-equipped to add this kind of information, especially if they are steered in this direction by their instructor.

Content additions like this to Wikipedia demonstrate the power of students contributing to Wikipedia as a class assignment. Wiki Education offers support materials at

Hero image credit: Philip Ezze, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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