David Edwards once came up with a method for delivering drugsinside porous wiffle balls of inhalable insulin (Idea #3). He wrotetwo textbooks (Ideas #1 and #2), developed a water-carrying devicemodeled after a biological cell (Idea # 22), and opened an arts andscience incubator, Le Laboratoire in Paris, to foster similar blueskies innovations (Idea # 9). The lab spawns the kind ofapparatuses you d expect to encounter at Starbucks 50 years fromnow: a plant-powered personal air filter (Idea #10 and #16),breathable chocolate bars (Idea #15), and, the latest, an ediblefood packaging called WikiCells (Idea #31). It s been in development for a long time, but Edwardsfinally unveiled the project last week in Paris. |
Now that it spublic, he believes it will transform the future of food . More than a decade after publishing a study in Science and selling a promising idea for an inhaled drug delivery system , Edwards, a biomedical engineer at Harvard, realized that his idearemained just an idea thanks in large part to the whims of thepharmaceutical market. In a world where things are changing sorapidly, la Facebook, the notion of a 15-year or 10-yeartimeline to see what an idea can really be is not so exciting foran innovator, he says. Nor is it very helpful for the public." Quick flashback to 1967: Benjamin Braddock, with the pool twinklingbehind him, hears one word about the future: plastics.
Fast forward to 2012: Plastics make up a dramatically increasing(an estimated 12%) portion of our waste. Long after the last dropof orange juice s been guzzled or the last slice of Americancheese been unwrapped, plastic packaging travels down the removalchain, breaking into smaller and smaller bits, fluttering around in landfills or floating in ocean gyres . If all that packaging was edible, though, we d have eaten it upalong with with our OJ and cheese, and it would never be seenagain. That s the idea of the WikiCell. The WikiCells concept came out of a class Edwards teaches atHarvard, ES20: How to Create Things and Have Them Matter, and asubsequent exhibit at Le Laboratoire.
An early appearance on Frenchtelevision--with a panel of critics plucked off the street--sealedthe deal. They picked these things up and it was weird in theirhands, Edwards says. They were saying, Oh boy, this is reallyweird! It was quite funny. But WikiCells is no mere As Seen On TV gadget and Edwards saysit s no mere conceptual provocation either--the launch in Parisproves this. The technology already exists: Electrostatic chargescan transform a sugar processing bi-product called bagasse, mixedwith chitosan and alginate, into an edible shell membrane.
Now anyfood you might find wrapped in plastic in the store can come in ashell made just using this technology. You ll be able to peel theshell off and compost the skin like a banana peel or, take a stepbeyond biodegradable, eat the whole thing like you would chew agrape. We re trying to avoid any kind of chemical modification and justuse natural processes and materials, Edwards says. The negativeis that it s like the orange--if you pull it off a tree, it startsto go bad.
There is a time-scale on this packaging. It depends onwhat it is and how you store it, but that can be days to weeks tomonths. The upside: It is not like plastic that is aroundforever. The early experiments demonstrated that if edible packaging were tosucceed, the public was not prepared to learn entirely novel waysof eating or drinking. Edible water bottles required a cognitivetransformation, whereas orange juice inside an orange-like membranemight be slightly more familiar.
Indeed, Edwards released an icecream wrapped in a fudge membrane, an almost too-recognizabletreat. You may say, Dave, that sounds a lot likechocolate-covered ice cream, he says. Well, if you took thechocolate-covered ice cream into your hand, it would melt all overyour hand. If you take the Wiki ice cream in your hand, the icecream may melt inside the fudge.
You can then stick a straw into itand drink it like a milkshake. And there it is, another idea onestep closer to fruition.
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