Nature has the answers to all of life’s problems if one looks close enough; the pine cone is no different. In order to protect and release its seeds, the cone has the ability to open and close its surface in reaction to water. Its outer layer has a higher hygroscopic expansion ratio than the inner therefore causing, when dry, it to elongate outwards and release its seeds amidst optimum conditions.
This natural phenomenon led RCA grad student Chao Chen, to commence ‘Water Reaction’ a materials study into the pine cone. Utilizing inherent properties, he was able to create a water-reacting laminate that can detect humidity levels, and change its shape automatically without mechanical structures or electronic elements. To showcase possible scenarios in which the laminate would be useful, Chen created a water indicator — for use with domestic plants — and a water-reacting surface — as an architectural exterior. Using naturally occurring technology, these products are able to easily solve common H2O related issues.