Constructal Theory: 5 Designs Shaping the Future of Sustainable Engineering
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4. Effective Transportation Systems
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. How do we get from point A to point B most effectively is an age old question. Constructal design has some rather clever insights into the problem. But first let's take a look at fractals and trees.
If we look at a structure like a tree you will notice that it looks fractal, that is, self similar. The veins in a leaf look like the whole tree itself. This is often a result of a constructal process. When you sees fractal designs in nature, they might be better described as a constructal design. But be careful, fractals are not the same thing as constructal. A fractal is a description of what we see, but a constructal design is predicted based on previously known conditions. This may be a bit subtle, but it ends up being very important.
If you were to miniaturize yourself, and enter the flow system of a tree you might experience the following. You enter the leaf, and it takes you about a minute to flow from the edge of the leaf to the center of the leaf, a distance of about an inch. It then takes another minute to move from the center of the leaf to the stem, about 3 inches. It then takes another minute to move from the small branch, to a lager branch, about 2 feet. It then takes another minute to reach the trunk, about 5 feet. As you can see, although the distance keeps increasing the time it takes to move from A to B is the same. This is very characteristic of constructal design.
The Atlanta airport is designed around a similar principle. The time it takes to walk from the end of one terminal to the inner tram is about 5 minutes. The time it takes to tram to go from one end to the other is about another 5 min. This means that you can get from any point to any other within about 15 min at the most. The resulting structure of the airport looks a bit like an engineered 'tree'.
Another way to say this is to have a hierarchy of speeds and travel methods. Once you start looking for the concept of "hierarchical" transportation systems you see them emerge everywhere. From walkable communities with public transit, to the hub and spoke system of airports. Constructal theory can help design and determine how many levels and what distances should be covered for a given transportation system.
This kind of insight into designing transportation systems could revolutionize how we move people, goods, and information around the country and the world.
5. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger... Science
How science works, is one of the best websites I have ever seen describing the process of science. One of the biggest challenges in science today is bringing together people and ideas from disparate areas to create the wide area of perspective necessary for solving challenging problems.
Constructal theory is one of those unique places where diverse fields can work together. It is a theory that crosses the boundaries of biology, geology, physics, sociology, engineering, design, and more. It has the potential to bring together creative thinking and research like very few concepts can.
If you can define a system as a flow system, then the generation of flow configuration - constructal theory - will be able to help you design and predict the behavior of the system. Already scientists have advanced their fields by applying constructal thinking to their work.
For example, applied constructal theory has recently found that it is possible to accurately predicts the size and shape of a forests tree canopy for moving water effectively from the ground to the atmosphere. This could greatly improve measurements for carbon cycle analysis, as well as water resource and forest management.
The theory has been applied to global climate research, and even used to illustrate why University Rankings don't change. The book Design with Constructal Theory, just published this past year creates the framework for anyone to learn how to utilize constructal design in their work. The website Constructal.org maintains a live list of recent publications, including a recent article about the unification of biological and geophysical design, that begin to explore constructal theories implications for the study of evolution itself.
The possibilities for constructal design and its applications are only as limited as our imagination. As a perspective on the world, Constructal Design offers us a point of unity, a place where we can all gather and work towards a more sustainable future.
More on Constructal Design
Constructal Theory: Introduction to the Inverse of Biomimicry
Constructal Theory: Sustainability
Constructal Theory: The Applications
Constructal Theory: The Science