Fifth-​​year chem­ical engi­neering stu­dent Devyesh Rana has some cre­ative ideas for con­structing build­ings to with­stand sun and earth­quake damage.

So how do you hope to rev­o­lu­tionize the way build­ings are made?

What I’m imag­ining — in the sim­plest sense — are plant struc­tures. A little far­fetched, I know. But it would be a building that would be able to regen­erate after radi­a­tion damage from the sun or struc­tural breaks from earth­quakes. I’m going for bio-​​metallic build­ings, which Wikipedia defines as a “living machine.” Earth is, fun­da­men­tally, a living machine.

Plant build­ings? Where did you come up with that idea?

Working with pro­fessor (Car­olyn) Lee-​​Parsons and pro­fessor (Albert) Sacco. In pro­fessor Lee-Parsons’s lab I was working with genetic muta­tions in plants, and it got me thinking: What if we could do that on a grander scale? Like for the mate­rials used to con­struct build­ings. Pro­fessor Sacco’s research in envi­ron­mental reme­di­a­tion inspired me to think about how a struc­ture built from organic mate­rials might help clean the air inside a building.

Do you really think these ideas could work?

Well, no one’s fig­ured out how yet — not that I know of. That’s why I’m applying to grad­uate schools with materials-​​science pro­grams and active research on thin-​​film tech­nolo­gies. If I can under­stand how this stuff works, I’m sure I could elab­o­rate on the tech­nolo­gies and incor­po­rate it into bigger applications.

So do you envi­sion your­self as some sort of mad archi­tect cre­ating living, breathing cities?

What I would really like to work on is cre­ating mate­rials for space and under­water explo­ration. There are a lot of prob­lems that limit our ability to travel and live in these harsh envi­ron­ments — radi­a­tion, energy sus­tain­ability and storage, and access to food, air, and water. In an under­water facility, for example, I could see cre­ating a thin bio­metal layer to pre­vent cor­ro­sion and radi­a­tion damage. I want to work on prob­lems like these and try to solve them.