Known for its light weight and high strength properties, graphene has been promised to us as the material of the future for quite some time now. But difficulties in translating its 2D strength into 3-dimensional applications have so far held it back from common use. Now, thanks to new research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that future may now be closer than ever before. In the school’s latest experiment, researchers have discovered how the material could be shaped into to sponge-like form to resist forces 10 times greater than steel.
The innovation comes in the object’s complex geometry. Starting with a computer model, researchers 3D printed 2 similar forms in a magenta colored polymer, one thinner object and one with thicker walls and folds.
They then subjected the two models to compression testing. Unexpectedly, the lighter object was found to be able to withstand greater pressures – this is because the thinner walls allowed the structure to deform incrementally, while the thicker walls hold a higher deformation energy capacity, which releases all at once in an explosive performance.
While not made of graphene, these models represent new ways of thinking about the material’s structure.
"You can replace the material itself with anything," said Markus Buehler, MIT's head of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "The geometry is the dominant factor."
Potential uses for the structure would include coating polymer or metal particles with graphene using a heat and pressure treatment, which would leave the graphene’s lightweight, super strong structure in tact. MIT believes this material could then be applied to build anything from long-span bridges to ultra-efficient water filtration systems.
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