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Bone-inspired steel cracks less under pressure

Variable pockets may make the building material more resilient

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10:00am, April 4, 2017
steel bridge

STURDY STEEL  Steel that mimics bone could one day help make bridges and other structures less prone to crack.

The heavy-duty material used to build bridges and sculpt skyscrapers could learn a few tricks from humble bones.

Steel’s weakness is its tendency to develop microscopic cracks that eventually make the material fracture. Repeated cycles of stress — daily rush hour traffic passing over a bridge, for example — nurture these cracks, which often aren’t apparent until the steel collapses. Bones, however, have a complex inner structure that helps them deal with stress. This structure differs depending on the scale, with tiny vertically aligned fibers building up into larger cylinders.

To mimic this variability, researchers fabricated steel with thin, alternating nanoscale layers of different crystal structures, some of which were just unstable enough to morph a bit under stress. That complicated microstructure prevented cracks from spreading in a straight line

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