12-23 candy canes

[Image above] Credit: Pixabay

A year ago when I wrote my five favorites post, I never would have believed the “Roaring Twenties” would come in with such a loud roar. But even during a year filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and stress, researchers around the world continued to persevere, and I had the honor to cover just a small sampling of the many groundbreaking studies published these past twelve months.

The CTTs I chose for my five favorites of 2020 represent a lot of the things that I frequently thought about while reading the news this year, including the importance of education and history and embracing new perspectives to solve current challenges. I hope you also enjoy looking back on some of the many topics we covered this year.

Video: Refractories—the hidden essential industry

“As local and federal governments mandate which businesses and industries are essential, some governments initially overlooked the refractory industry. Learn about what makes the refractory industry essential and what some refractory companies are doing to secure the right to reopen.”

It is no surprise that we featured numerous COVID-related articles throughout this year on CTT, from determining the most effective materials for face masks to looking at new ways to diagnose the disease. Of all these articles, the one that really stuck with me was the post I wrote about the refractories industry in May.

Refractory ceramics are one of ACerS 11 Divisions, and these materials are essential to enabling the operation of many other industries, including production of steel, glass, paper, and more. Yet when shutdowns started taking place in March, some states and countries overlooked the importance of refractories and did not allow them to remain open. This exclusion led refractory companies and organizations both locally and globally to advocate for the industry, bringing this “hidden” industry to the forefront on many people’s attention.

Involved as I am with reporting refractories research on a regular basis, I was surprised to realize that so many people are unaware of the material’s importance. But I also am excited to see this increased communication and education taking place, including on our own podcast. (Check out our recent interview with HarbisonWalker International CEO Carol Jackson!)

Video: The hidden history of Vietnamese ceramics

“In the 15th and 16th centuries, the village of Chu Dau in Hải Dương Province, Vietnam, produced unique ceramic pieces that were shipped throughout the world before war put an end to the practice. This history was only recently uncovered in the 1980s, and a recent documentary details the story.”

Speaking of hidden industries, another one of my favorite CTT posts is one from August on the hidden history of Chu Dau ceramics, which come from the Hải Dương Province in Vietnam.

Vietnam played an important role in the global ceramic trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, but that history was lost during war and not rediscovered until the 1980s. Upon learning this history, people living in the area today were motivated to revive the ancient craft.

So many of the biggest discoveries are hiding in plain sight once you take a closer look. To see an example of how such discoveries influence whole communities is an eye-opening experience.

Fibers from recycled beverage straws may make refractories processing safer and cheaper

“Plastic straws cannot be recycled to make new straws, but that does not mean straws are nonrecyclable. Researchers in Brazil looked at turning straws into anti-spalling fibers for refractory castables.”

This post from March on using recycled beverage straws as anti-spalling fibers in refractory castables is another great example of how important discoveries can be hiding in plain sight.

Recycling straws back into other plastic products is difficult because the polymers break down quickly after being remelted a few times. However, this disadvantage becomes an advantage when straws are made into anti-spalling fibers because the breakdown leaves behind pores in the refractory that reduce the likelihood of explosive spalling.

I’m impressed the researchers realized this characteristic of recycled straws could prove beneficial this way, and the potential of this technique to help solve one of today’s big problems—plastic waste—makes the research all the more interesting.

A stimulating discovery: Bioactive glasses show promise in muscle regeneration

“Current methods for repairing skeletal muscle have limited success. Researchers from the United States and China evaluated the potential of bioactive glass to stimulate muscle regeneration, with promising results.”

My fourth favorite article comes from all the way back in January, but I still remember it like yesterday because the research fascinates me so much.

Biomaterials are a significant market in today’s healthcare industry, and ceramic and glass materials especially play a major role in that market. (Check out our review of this market in the December 2020 Bulletin.) Applications of bioactive glass in particular advanced noticeably in recent years, but one area that remains largely untouched is the use of bioactive glass to help treat skeletal muscle.

This topic is exactly what the January CTT covered, though, and I am honored we get to cover such cutting-edge research on CTT.

Video: Finding beauty in the cracks

“The ability of laminated glass to hold together upon shattering is invaluable in safety and security applications—and art as well. Artist Simon Berger controls cracking in laminated glass to create portraits using the cracks.”

I’d like to end my top five list with this post from April. When I originally wrote it, we were only about a month into quarantine and still hoping our lives would return to semi-normal by fall. Eight months later, we are just now starting to get a vaccine, and we will likely not reach widespread distribution of it until spring.

During these past months, many people found their perspectives on life changed by the pandemic, from redefining productivity to gaining a new appreciation for the outdoors. In other words, people found ways to see the beauty in the cracks—just like the people who view the art of Simon Berger.