An old trick, but still a good one. NASA, for instance, recently hired Bigelow Aerospace to produce an inflatable addition to the International Space Station. If all goes well, astronauts will blow up the prefab unit (small enough to stash in the cargo trunk of a Dragon resupply rocket) into a 13-foot-long, 10.5-foot-diameter space home by 2015.
As world-changing innovations go, textiles are right up there with fire. Cloth folds neatly into a bundle and yet quickly expands into warm clothing, elaborate tents, or sails for exploring the world. Then came folio books, which collapsed matters even more efficiently.
Grind flour and its surface area increases, making it more digestible (and more explosive). Researchers at Rice University recently proposed applying somewhat the same principle to making batteries: Crushing a silicon-based anode can give it far greater surface area, the better to soak up lithium ions.
The Rice researchers more recently developed a process whereby they first etched the silicon into a sponge-like structure, then crushed it, increasing its surface area 50-fold.
Chris Harrison, a Carnegie Mellon University doctoral candidate, has been studying ways to increase the input area of ever-shrinking touchscreens. The answer: Use other surfaces. One system involves tapping the skin, another senses the sound of fingers lightly scratching on tabletops, but each arrives at the ultimate ratio: all surface to no volume.