Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New ultrastiff, ultralight material developed


Nanostructured material based on repeating microscopic units has record-breaking stiffness at low density.

What's the difference between the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument?

Both structures soar to impressive heights, and each was the world's tallest building when completed. But the Washington Monument is a massive stone structure, while the Eiffel Tower achieves similar strength using a lattice of steel beams and struts that is mostly open air, gaining its strength from the geometric arrangement of those elements.

Now engineers at MIT and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have devised a way to translate that airy, yet remarkably strong, structure down to the microscale — designing a system that could be fabricated from a variety of materials, such as metals or polymers, and that may set new records for stiffness for a given weight.

The new design is described in the journal Science by MIT's Nicholas Fang; former postdoc Howon Lee, now an assistant professor at Rutgers University; visiting research fellow Qi "Kevin" Ge; LLNL's Christopher Spadaccini and Xiaoyu "Rayne" Zheng; and eight others.

The design is based on the use of microlattices with nanoscale features, combining great stiffness and strength with ultralow density, the authors say. The actual production of such materials is made possible by a high-precision 3-D printing process called projection microstereolithography, as a result of the joint research collaboration between the Fang and Spadaccini groups since 2008.

Normally, Fang explains, stiffness and strength declines with the density of any material; that's why when bone density decreases, fractures become more likely. But using the right mathematically determined structures to distribute and direct the loads — the way the arrangement of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal beams do in a structure like the Eiffel Tower — the lighter structure can maintain its strength.

A pleasant surprise

The geometric basis for such microstructures was determined more than a decade ago, Fang says, but it took years to transfer that mathematical understanding "to something we can print, using a digital projection — to convert this solid model on paper to something we can hold in our hand." The result was "a pleasant surprise to us," he adds, performing even better than anticipated.

"We found that for a material as light and sparse as aerogel [a kind of glass foam], we see a mechanical stiffness that's comparable to that of solid rubber, and 400 times stronger than a counterpart of similar density. Such samples can easily withstand a load of more than 160,000 times their own weight," says Fang, the Brit and Alex d'Arbeloff Career Development Associate Professor in Engineering Design. So far, the researchers at MIT and LLNL have tested the process using three engineering materials — metal, ceramic, and polymer — and all showed the same properties of being stiff at light weight.

"This material is among the lightest in the world," LLNL's Spadaccini says. "However, because of its microarchitected layout, it performs with four orders of magnitude higher stiffness than unstructured materials, like aerogels, at a comparable density."

Light material, heavy loads

This approach could be useful anywhere there's a need for a combination of high stiffness (for load bearing), high strength, and light weight — such as in structures to be deployed in space, where every bit of weight adds significantly to the cost of launch. But Fang says there may also be applications at smaller scale, such as in batteries for portable devices, where reduced weight is also highly desirable.

Another property of these materials is that they conduct sound and elastic waves very uniformly, meaning they could lead to new acoustic metamaterials, Fang says, that could help control how waves bend over a curved surface.

Others have suggested similar structural principles over the years, such as a proposal last year by researchers at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) for materials that could be cut out as flat panels and assembled into tiny unit cells to make larger structures. But that concept would require assembly by robotic systems that have yet to be developed, says Fang, who has discussed this work with CBA researchers. This technique, he says, uses 3-D printing technology that can be implemented now.


The work was supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and LLNL.

Written by David Chandler, MIT News Office

Andrew Carleen | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Eiffel LLNL MIT Massachusetts geometric materials projection stiffness structure waves weight

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film
27.11.2015 | University of California - Berkeley

nachricht Controlling Electromagnetic Radiation by Graphene
27.11.2015 | Universität Augsburg

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Greater efficiency and potentially reduced costs with new MRI applications

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Modular syngo.plaza as a comprehensive solution – even for enterprise radiology

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>