by David L. Chandler for MIT News
Boston MA (SPX) Jun 24, 2014
What's the difference between the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument? Both structures soar to impressive heights, and each was the world's tallest building when completed. But the Washington Monument is a massive stone structure, while the Eiffel Tower achieves similar strength using a lattice of steel beams and struts that is mostly open air, gaining its strength from the geometric arrangement of those elements.
Now engineers at MIT and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have devised a way to translate that airy, yet remarkably strong, structure down to the microscale - designing a system that could be fabricated from a variety of materials, such as metals or polymers, and that may set new records for stiffness for a given weight.
The new design is described in the journal Science by MIT's Nicholas Fang; former postdoc Howon Lee, now an assistant professor at Rutgers University; visiting research fellow Qi "Kevin" Ge; LLNL's Christopher Spadaccini and Xiaoyu "Rayne" Zheng; and eight others.
The design is based on the use of microlattices with nanoscale features, combining great stiffness and strength with ultralow density, the authors say. The actual production of such materials is made possible by a high-precision 3-D printing process called projection microstereolithography, as a result of the joint research collaboration between the Fang and Spadaccini groups since 2008.
Normally, Fang explains, stiffness and strength declines with the density of any material; that's why when bone density decreases, fractures become more likely. But using the right mathematically determined structures to distribute and direct the loads - the way the arrangement of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal beams do in a structure like the Eiffel Tower - the lighter structure can maintain its strength.
A pleasant surprise
"We found that for a material as light and sparse as aerogel [a kind of glass foam], we see a mechanical stiffness that's comparable to that of solid rubber, and 400 times stronger than a counterpart of similar density. Such samples can easily withstand a load of more than 160,000 times their own weight," says Fang, the Brit and Alex d'Arbeloff Career Development Associate Professor in Engineering Design.
So far, the researchers at MIT and LLNL have tested the process using three engineering materials - metal, ceramic, and polymer - and all showed the same properties of being stiff at light weight.
"This material is among the lightest in the world," LLNL's Spadaccini says. "However, because of its microarchitected layout, it performs with four orders of magnitude higher stiffness than unstructured materials, like aerogels, at a comparable density."
Light material, heavy loads
Another property of these materials is that they conduct sound and elastic waves very uniformly, meaning they could lead to new acoustic metamaterials, Fang says, that could help control how waves bend over a curved surface.
Others have suggested similar structural principles over the years, such as a proposal last year by researchers at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) for materials that could be cut out as flat panels and assembled into tiny unit cells to make larger structures. But that concept would require assembly by robotic systems that have yet to be developed, says Fang, who has discussed this work with CBA researchers. This technique, he says, uses 3-D printing technology that can be implemented now.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|