BY ZACH MORTICE
A hydrogel-enabled seed bomb. Credit: U.S. provisional patent application No. 62/465,341. Nahin Shah | Martina Decker, Material Dynamics Lab.
The tools for tactical urbanism seem more likely to be developed in community center meeting halls and anonymous Internet forums rather than university laboratories. But at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), an architecture professor is working on ways to give impromptu urban vegetation efforts staying power with hydrogel seed bombs.
Martina Decker, who directs NJIT?s Idea Factory and Material Dynamics Lab, is combining seed bombs?balls of organic matter that protect and help seeds packed within them grow?with hydrogel granulates, polymers that are extremely hydrophilic, sucking in moisture and swelling to up to 400 times their own weight in water. By nestling this water-attracting material amid seeds, young plants have access to moisture that stays in the soil and won?t evaporate.
Martina Decker. Image courtesy of Jordan Alport.
Decker trained as an architect, but found her way to material science research after realizing how unsustainable many building and planting materials are. By looking at materials at the ?molecular level,? she says, ?rather than trying to find the right material for an application, we can design materials for the application.?
The hydrogel seed bombs aren?t a fire-and-forget miracle. ?It?s really more of a starter medium,? she says. Hydrogel is perfect for inattentive houseplant owners, but successful plants that rely on it still need some added moisture.
Each of Decker?s hydrogel seed bombs places compost, hydrogel granulates, fertilizer, and seeds (she?s been experimenting with wheatgrass, onions, and radishes) inside a water-permeable clay shell. When the bombs are launched and they reach the earth and absorb water, the hydrogel begins swelling with it, pushing seeds out into a wider radius. ?You increase the radius by eight inches,? says Decker, who pioneered this rese...