Falling Walls Lab highlights part 4

2 ways we can better preserve what we build

It takes thousands of tons of asphalt to build a highway—but every couple decades, that highway has to be repaved or replaced.

And it once took years of work and thousands of people to build cultural sites like statues, bridges, and houses of worship. But in the span of just a few years, those sites can be destroyed or degraded.

This problem is visible right here in Berlin, where slick modern buildings sit alongside medieval churches and century-old tenements. Even fragments of the Berlin Wall have become hard to find.

It’s no coincidence that so many of participants of Falling Walls Lab 2016 want us to make the most of the what we build.

Etienne Jeoffrey, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, said that every time we get stuck in traffic, we’re sitting on top of a missed opportunity. Over time, tiny cracks in asphalt create a need for road repairs. “We usually fill them up with a glue, to temporarily solve the problem,” Jeoffrey said. But by the time visible cracks form, roads are already in bad shape. He argued that by mixing magnetic nanoparticles into asphalt, it’s possible to fix microscopic cracks early in the process. If successful, they could even double the lifespan of a road.

Salma ElDardiry, the founder of a culture documentation project called Describing Egypt, wants to help save human structures in digital form. ElDardiry’s home country has over a thousand archaeological sites, but hundreds of them have been damaged in recent decades. “Humans are gradually losing the chance to study our heritage,” ElDardiry said. Sometimes it’s possible to protect physical sites—but when that proves difficult, projects like Describing Egypt capture detailed photographs that are assembled into online 3-D landscapes. This allows researchers to virtually visit sites that are no longer accessible.

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