As consistent and strong as wood, concrete, and steel have been for the past centuries, researchers and scientists are continually trying to improve them or create a better replacement product. Many have tried, but none have yet to succeed on a large scale. The latest scientific breakthrough takes a look at the geometry of a structure, rather than simply the material itself.
For years, scientists have known that graphene, in its two dimensional form, is one of the strongest materials on the planet. But, converting that strength into a useful three dimensional product has been a major struggle. While studying this material, MIT researchers Markus Buehler, Zhao Qin, Gang Seob Jung, and Min Jeong Kang Meng have discovered that the geometrical configuration may be more important to a material's strength the the material itself. By manipulating the structure, they believe they not only can increase the strength, but greatly reduce the weight in the process.
To illustrate their findings, the team 3D printed oddly shaped cubes of plastic and applied pressure to them. The version with thicker walls, which would seem stronger, actually failed faster than the less rigid version with thinner walls, as you can see in the video below.
“You can replace the material itself with anything,” Buehler said in a statement, referring to graphene. “The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”
As it relates to construction, the team believes that the geometry discovery could be applied to concrete. By designing the concrete with the porous geometry, the weight of a concrete structure could be greatly reduced while not sacrificing any strength. The airspace within, they say, would also provide better insulation. The idea of porous concrete being beneficial does seem to contradict what other MIT researchers have previously found, however. As we shared last year, a team led by researchers from MIT, Georgetown, and CRNS in France determined that the existence of water that enters concrete through tiny pores causes concrete degradation. Controlling the size of the pores, they say, could strengthen and extend the life of concrete.
Full story: Researchers design one of the strongest, lightest materials known | MIT News