Animate Materials

Royal Society Meeting, Animate Materials, 13 March 2019, London, UK

The invite-only event extended to Rachel Armstrong and Rolf Hughes, explored shaping and promoting animate materials as a new field of science – materials with ‘life-like’ properties such as the ability to diagnose and repair themselves and self-decompose at the end of their life. The meeting was convened with a diverse group of people, including economists, architects, social policy experts, designers and artists, to explore the vision of animate materials and how the technology can be ‘socialised’.

Imagine a city where the roads, buildings, bridges and other infrastructure can detect damage and repair itself. This is a city where pot-holes are a thing of the past, a city where pipes do not burst, a city that is resilient to the effects of climate change because, after being battered by a storm, it heals itself. Imagine an airplane that changes shape in the sky to maximise energy efficiency; imagine an implant that plumbs itself into your body; imagine a phone or garment that disassembles itself at the end of its useful life. Such a world is made of animate materials.

“Animate Materials” is a new concept which this working group is shaping, defining and promoting as a multidisciplinary reality of the future. Engineering, biology, chemistry and materials science are core sciences that constitute such materials. The key element of this workshop will be to understand the economics and societal aspects of the animate materials future – how business models, employment practices, manufacturing, user expectations and policies will promote such a vision.

As part of the wider programme of work, the Royal Society will convene the Animate Materials Insights Workshop on March 13. Up to 50 participants spanning the broad range of disciplines will further explore the vision of animate materials, and, crucially, respond to the challenge of how this vision will be “socialised”.

Defining and shaping the world of the future around animate materials is nothing short of ambitious – the rewards could be globally transformational. This workshop has the following objectives:

  1. Understand the field of animate materials
  2. Articulate a vision of the world we want in the future with animate materials at the centre
  3. Explore the context for animate materials in the future: economics, social aspects, policy 

The Animate Materials working group aims to then publish its outputs after the summer of 2019. These will be available on a dedicated web page on the Emerging Technologies sub-site of the Royal Society, and include a succinct report, a short 2-page summary for policy makers, a video, a set of science and opinion papers.