Zina Cinker, a globally recognized Frontier Material expert, strategist, and condensed matter physicist, currently serves as the Director General of the Advanced Material Future Preparedness Taskforce (AMPT) — an international think tank and association of over 30 country chapters, orchestrating the global use of Frontier Materials to solve humanity’s most immediate challenges. In 2021 AMPT launched PUZZLE X, the world’s first Frontier Material hub, with the support of the Government of Spain, Generalitat de Catalunya, and Barcelona City Hall. Cinker, a scheduled speaker at the 4YFN conference in Barcelona, recently spoke to The Innovator about the ways technological advances in material science will impact industry and society and how the “MATTERverse” will intersect with the metaverse.
Why did you launch the AMPT and what is the connection with PUZZLE X ?
I come from a fundamental physics background. People used to ask me what we are working on and I would tell them we look at how light interacts with matter in a millionth times a billionth of a second. When they asked ‘What can you do with that?’ I would answer ‘There is no application for it.’ They would ask ‘So why do you do it?’ and my answer would be ‘For the sake of science!’ Science for the sake of science has its own place and the reason we have many of the technologies we have today but after my PhD I got interested in commercializing science – in making things people could use. There are lots of challenges in commercializing frontier and new materials because in many instances regulations and standards haven’t been developed. I took on the job of running the U.S. National Graphene Association because I wanted to see how graphene could benefit industry. But during COVID I became more sensitive to another facet of science which is science for the sake of societal impact. That is why I decided to start a new organization, AMPT, that would put societal benefits at the core but be run like an industry association. It is not an easy or conventional model but we are exploring new territories.
Our mandate is to figure out how to facilitate applications that have value to society at a faster pace, to develop commercial applications that can make money but at the same time have real impact. When I started AMPT I called on some of the biggest thought leaders in the field to roll up their sleeves and help. One of those people was John Hoffman, the CEO of the GSMA, who has a real passion for graphene and frontier materials. As the chairman of the AMPT board he connected me to the Barcelona ecosystem. We proposed an intriguing idea: to start the first frontier material hub in the world in Barcelona called PUZZLE X. In a span of six months we had the support of the government of Spain, Generalitat de Catalunya, and Barcelona City Hall and many other public entities. The result was a PUZZLE X 2021 event which took place in Barcelona in November, with attendees from 57 countries, including some of biggest movers and shakers, from Nobel Laureates to fashion designers, material startups and corporates. I am traveling back to Barcelona later this month to speak at 4YFN, a startup event taking place during Mobile World Congress February 28-March 3.
I understand you will be on a panel about the intersection of the MATTERverse with the metaverse. What is that all about?
In the next decade we are going to be seeing a leap in the world of materials or as I call it the MATTERverse. To truly realize the potential of a metaverse our rudimentary tools for interfacing with the digital world won’t be enough. To be really immersed in the metaverse the technology will need to be able to provide sensory interaction so that if you are touching something in the metaverse, like a Nike shoe, you will actually be able to feel the fabric. The coming years will be all about crossing the divide and making objects sentient and that is a world that has unfathomable potential. It will be possible to embed electronics inside objects that are 3D printed. Imagine sensors are embedded in your coffee cup and can connect to circuits embedded in your brain. You could simply think ‘I really would like my coffee to be warmer’ and the cup would sense this and make it warmer for you. Every object you touch will feel a connection with you. We are talking about the ultimate form of connectivity when man could become one with the universe. Making that interaction happen will require the next leap in hardware: the building blocks of what makes us and the world around us. With AI and the expansion of the virtual world, what is limiting our next chapter is a new revolution in hardware and sensory components.
Can you give us some examples of frontier materials in the works?
Think of Frontier Materials as building blocks that will enable new forms of things to be created. Frontier Materials are materials on the bleeding edge. 2000 years ago it was bronze. The Frontier Material of the the 1800s was steel. In the 1970s it was silicon. Every time humanity masters the art of a frontier material there is a leap in human civilization. Materials and the tools that they make possible change the world and have a tremendous impact on how humans exist and how technology advances. Graphene, quantum materials, meta materials and some other new materials will do the same. At PUZZLE X last November we demonstrated steaks being printed, new types of brain interfaces, quantum computing hardware that will help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges and nano-bots that can enter your body and de-clog your veins and that’s only the start.
How can business best keep on top of what matters in materials science?
At AMPT and with initiatives like PUZZLE X we want to create a trusted source of knowledge, information and insights for the industry. We want to give people in business a realistic perspective on where things are in the development cycle so when new materials get close to commercialization, industry can get involved in using them, innovating and setting standards. Industry can come and interact with us to to discover the movers and shakers and startups they should know and trends they should keep their eyes on. We are a place for industry to come to get a vision of the future and prepare to be a part of it.
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