MIT has come up with a structure using just carbon which is ten times the strength of steel, but only 5% of its density. Lighter than air, 3D graphene structures could take engineering and design by storm. A 3-D printed model of gyroid graphene (via MIT & theregister.co.uk)
Steel has thus far been the gold standard for construction materials. Steel is strong, resists compression and stretching, and supports heavy weight. What if it were possible to build with materials even stronger than steel, but with only a fraction of its weight?
This is just what engineers at MIT have been working on for years, and recently, they have created a material which does exactly that.
Graphene, made entirely of carbon, is like a piece of paper-it’s two-dimensional. Much like the graphite in a pencil or the diamond in a ring, the strength and functionality of graphene lay in the way the carbon atoms are arranged. Graphite has one arrangement of carbon, whereas diamond has another. What the MIT researchers did was simply take the two-dimensional, paper-like arrangement of graphene and rearrange it into coiling shapes.
Those coils are what give the new graphene its incredible strength and lightness.
The coils are also known as gyroids, a term coined by NASA scientist Alan Schoen back in the 1970’s. Gyroids have no planar symmetry; they are bendy, twisty shapes that increase the flexibility and strength of any given material, and as it turns out, are remarkably abundant in the natural world. Viruses, the DNA double helix, and proteins are some examples of gyroids. So, what happens when gyroid models are used to make life-size, man-made materials? Things get stronger and lighter than ever before.
Using compression tests, the material demonstrated resistance to compression ten times greater than that of steel, presently the gold standard for engineering and construction materials. Unlike steel, however, graphene is incredibly light. It has less than 5 % the density of steel, making it much lighter, almost bouncy.
The graphene models used in MIT’s compression tests were made using 3-D printers. It is not yet possible to produce graphene for industry uses with current technology. There just aren’t enough 3-D printers in the world to make such complex materials to scale.
That may be the next design conundrum for MIT-how to make graphene available to the industries it would benefit the most. In the meantime, that this material exists means exciting things may be ahead for many industries.
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