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Bone inspires strong, lightweight material

Tiny synthetic structures are as sturdy as metal

BARE BONES DESIGN  Microstructures that mimic those found in bone (shown here) allowed researchers to create a strong, lightweight synthetic material. Each hollow honeycomb in the formation is 10 cubic micrometers. 

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Stacks of wee honeycomb structures that resemble the build of bone can form super strong, lightweight matter unmatched by current construction materials.

Strong but light materials could be useful for everything from armor to insulation but are tricky to design. The strongest known materials, such as steel and diamonds, can withstand thousands of megapascals of pressure but have densities well above 1,000 kilograms per cubic meter.

To design a tough material without the bulk, Jens Bauer and colleagues at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany swiped the microstructure of bone, which consists of hollow units stacked into sturdy structures. Using ceramic-polymer mixes and 3-D laser printing, Bauer and his team created  airy but brawny honeycomb structures, which were each about 10 cubic micrometers or smaller.

The researchers found that stacked honeycomb formations  could withstand up to 280 megapascals of pressure — similar to metal alloys — but had densities below 1,000 kilograms per cubic meter. The team reports the findings February 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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