Last September, we wrote about the Hasso-Plattner-Institute in Germany and their R&D on metamaterials, hacking the internal structures of materials to create simple, non-powered machines. By experimenting with various microstructural designs, researchers were able to 3D print simple machines that can deform to create some form of actuation, allowing the 3D printing of switches, latches, door handles, and the like.
Now, in another exciting development in metamaterials, a team at MIT has taken flakes of graphene (the current reigning champ of strongest materials) and heat-fused them in a 3D printed mesh-like structure to create a new kind of material that is 10 times stronger than steel at only 5% of steel’s density. Looks like graphene might have to surrender its championship belt soon.
While the graphene-infused material is important in these results, the microstructures the team is computer-generating can convey these impressive characteristics on other materials, too:
“You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals,” says Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the McAfee Professor of Engineering. “You can replace the material itself with anything. The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”
Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.View more articles by Gareth Branwyn