A miracle material

B Stefan Anitei, Science Editor

March 31, Softpedia

In the world of the building materials, bamboo could compete successfully against steel, concrete, wood and glass. Because of its exceptional mechanical qualities, low price and design, bamboo could turn into one of the preferred building materials of the future. Even if it looks like a tree, the bamboo is just a woody perennial evergreen grass, related to cereals like wheat, corn or rice.

For more than 2,000 years, the bamboo has been used for building suspended bridges, houses, scaffolds, but also for making home products, furniture, pirogues, and musical instruments. The Chinese employed it in making a wide range of tools, from surgical needles (pieces with widths of tenths of millimeters, used for sewing nerves) to pipe lines, even during the 4th century BC. They used bamboo pipe lines to transport the brine from the salt mines of Tsu-Liu-Ching (Sichuan province).

Some bamboo construction resisted over the millennia. The suspended bamboo bridge at An-Lan (over the Min River), built during the 3rd century AD (!), 320 m (1,066 ft) long, still stands (but it requires two maintenance sessions annually). The bridge is sustained by 15 bamboo cables, each having 5 cm (2 in) in diameter, whose resistance is four times higher than that of hemp ropes.

In 1905, China still had drilling stations made entirely of bamboo. They were 75 m (250 ft) tall and worked from 220 AD (!).

Tabashir, a siliceous resin secreted by some bamboo species, was used as chemical catalytic agent. In southeastern Asia, tabashir was used against asthma, coughing and even as an aphrodisiac. From heated bamboo, people extracted a
wax used for lighting. The first light bulb made in 1880 by Thomas Edison used a fiber of calcined bamboo as filament.

The Chinese also made a type of universal measurement standard based on bamboo. A bamboo rod was used as the length standard and when the distance between two knots made it possible, a bamboo rod was used as pipe.

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photo: Bamboo plantation (orchidspecies.com)