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Toylike blocks make lightweight, strong structures

Instead of reducing parts, engineers suggest building planes from thousands of identical pieces

12:45pm, August 16, 2013

BUILDING BLOCKS  Thin slices of carbon fiber composite  can link together to build lightweight lattices that could one day form the  framework of airplanes and spacecraft.

A carbon-fiber skeleton of Tinkertoy-like building blocks is 10 times as stiff as structures of similar densities. And because the framework is made of mostly identical pieces, broken parts can be easily swapped out for new ones, its inventors report in the Aug. 16 Science. The new design could one day form light, stiff, easy-to-repair bones of airframes, bicycles, bridges and even buildings.

“It’s fascinating,” says materials scientist Rainer Adelung of Kiel University in Germany. “When you read this article, you think, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’ It’s a simple idea, but it has such a large impact.”

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