Researchers develop method to design synthetic materials and quickly turn the design into reality using computer optimization and 3-D printing.
Researchers working to design new materials that are durable, lightweight and environmentally sustainable are increasingly looking to natural composites, such as bone, for inspiration: Bone is strong and tough because its two constituent materials, soft collagen protein and stiff hydroxyapatite mineral, are arranged in complex hierarchical patterns that change at every scale of the composite, from the micro up to the macro.
While researchers have come up with hierarchical structures in the design of new materials, going from a computer model to the production of physical artifacts has been a persistent challenge. This is because the hierarchical structures that give natural composites their strength are self-assembled through electrochemical reactions, a process not easily replicated in the lab.
Now researchers at MIT have developed an approach that allows them to turn their designs into reality. In just a few hours, they can move directly from a multiscale computer model of a synthetic material to the creation of physical samples.
In a paper published online June 17 in Advanced Functional Materials, associate professor Markus Buehler of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and co-authors describe their approach. Using computer-optimized designs of soft and stiff polymers placed in geometric patterns that replicate nature’s own patterns, and a 3-D printer that prints with two polymers at once, the team produced samples of synthetic materials that have fracture behavior similar to bone. One of the synthetics is 22 times more fracture-resistant than its strongest constituent material, a feat achieved by altering its hierarchical design.
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