Yakhchal – An Ancient Cold Storage Marvel

By Anupum Pant

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During a period when electricity was only a thing for the Gods, around 400 B.C.E., in the hot-arid deserts of Iran where temperatures touched 40 degree centigrade, ancient engineers had found a way to keep their ice from melting. Two thousand years back, a cold storage facility was being used. The impressive thing about it – it was clean and sustainable technology.

What are these?

Yakhchals, or ice pits of ancient Persia were the huge mounds (buildings hollow from the inside), which made it possible for Persians to store away the ice for summers, meat, dairy products, other food items and chilled frozen Faloodeh for the palace. Beside treats for the palace, the method of preserving ice was so professional yet simple that even the poor could afford it.

Structure and Working

The structure of these buildings above the ground is a large mud brick dome, often rising to about 60 feet in height. Below it are large underground empty spaces, up to 5000 cubic meter in volume. This space had access to wind catch and often contained a system of wind-catchers that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels in summer days. The structures were built so well that many still remain standing.

Working: The massive insulation built into the walls (due to the use of a special mixture of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash) and the continuous cooling waters that spiralled down its side kept the ice frozen throughout the summer by evaporative cooling (just like those mist fans). They also had a trench at the bottom to catch water from the molten ice and to refreeze it during the cold desert nights. The ice was then broken up and moved to rooms deep in the ground. As more water ran into the trench the process was repeated.

Geography: These were built in the areas that had suitable condition for producing natural ice or places where there was feasibility of water freezing during the cold nights.

Major architectural elements

  • Shading wall – To avoid direct exposure to sunlight and to let the structure remain cool in the shade.
  • Provisional pool – To supply water for evaporative cooling to take place.
  • and Ice reservoir – To keep the cycle going. Freeze > Melt > Refreeze at night and so on…

The end of Yakhchal (reasons)

  • Since the advent of electricity-guzzling freezers and air conditioners, unfortunately, the use of these architectural wonders has been considered as foolishness. This is probably the reason no Yakhchals are being used for cold storage anymore.
  • Desert storms, caused a lot of erosion to these structures, especially to the ones that were isolated in the desert regions.
  • Since Yakhchal’s ice formed in the open it was prone to combining with dust and resulted in contamination. That was another reason it wasn’t considered as a choice useful enough for modern purposes.

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4D Printing is Here

By Anupum Pant

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We had just started getting comfortable with printing objects in 3D, and 4D printing is already here. Early this year, in the month of April, Skylar Tibbits, an architect, designer and computer scientist at MIT, gave a revolutionary demonstration explaining their advances in the field of 4D printing at a TED conference. This was an initial proposal and it got things moving at a rapid pace.

Side note: In the world of 3D printing:

What is 4D printing?

At first 4D printing sounds like a catch phrase, it isn’t really just that. 4D printing is actually 1D better than 3D printing and it aims at making objects out of a 3D printer, that can reconfigure themselves into useful shapes, on their own. For instance, think of a non-living stick changing itself into a 3D cube as time passes. In short, 4D printing will enable us to create living objects without any living cells, micro-processors, chips or batteries involved. Sounds simple enough, but the promises are nothing less than extraordinary.

In the TED talk attached below, Skylar explains how a string of plastic placed in water can turn itself into the letters MIT. But, this was something that happened back in April. Things have moved further.

A few days back, Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed a successful test of their 4D printing technology. They were able to print out flat objects using normal plastic combined with a smart material which was able to turn into a cube on its own. Cubes are just the start.

According to scientists, in the future, 4D printing will probably churn out smart car bodies that would heal automatically, smart soldier uniforms and advanced building materials. Imagine a camouflage material that changes to match the surroundings, that could be the future. Or a pipe that contracts and expands to move water without pumps. Or a building material that builds itself into a structure. 4D printing could probably best suited for building in an extremely hostile environment like space. The possibilities are endless.

But, let us not get ahead of ourselves. It is almost impossible to predict what we’ll actually see in the future. Things have just started to happen in the field of 4D printing. But, it sure looks amazing. What will you build?

Super-hydrophobic Surfaces are Unbelievable

by Anupum Pant

It is almost impossible to get a lotus leaf wet. If you try pouring water on it, you’ll see that it will form little beads of water and quickly roll out of the leaf. This happens because a lotus leaf is super-hydrophobic. Although, even your raincoat doesn’t get wet, it isn’t super-hydrophobic. Water sticks to on the surface of a raincoat. Super-hydrophobic surfaces don’t let water stick on it. But how do they manage to do that?

The science – Contact angle

Every time a liquid sits on the surface of a solid, the liquid drop forms an angle of contact as shown below. Things that don’t get wet have a contact angle greater than 90 degrees and the ones that get wet form an angle lesser than 90 degrees. The greatest angle is always less than 180 degrees. Theoretically, a perfect bead will form at that angle.

Super-hydrophobic surfaces are able to push this angle to as high as 175 degrees to form almost a perfectly spherical water droplet on the surface (due to very high surface energy). This ensures that as soon as water falls on it, it rolls away. The surface never gets wet.

Advantages

Imagine things never getting wet. How about a completely water resistant phone, a shoe that never gets dirty, shirts that repel ice-cream and wind-screens rolling away rain droplets like magic? All these things are possible, if they can be converted into super-hydrophobic surfaces. [They can be. Watch the video below]

Besides repelling water, these surfaces can also prevent formation of ice, resist corrosion and prevent bacteria from sticking to it. The possibilities are endless.

How to do it artificially?

Today, we have managed to develop several artificial methods to make almost any surface super-hydrophobic. Commercial services like NeverWet, HydroBead and Lotus leaf coatings are making a roar in the market by offering amazing promises. Normally, they use simplified spray coatings to convert normal surfaces to super-hydrophobic surfaces, so any one can use them, anywhere.