Metals that are heavy and sturdy are usually what we associate with strength and rigidity. After all, we call Superman, the Man of Steel don’t we? However, the engineers at MIT have created one of the strongest materials ever, but it appears more like a spongey foam toy, instead of a rigid metallic beam.
Flakes of graphene were what the researchers used. Graphene is already recognized as the world’s strongest 2-D material. It’s used to create a sponge-like structure that looks like a coral. Whilst layman like us look at it as if it were a funky toy, structural engineers look at it as if it were a holy grail, and for good reason. This weird porous shape is 10x stronger than steel and an extremely light. It has a density that is a mere 5% of steel.
“What we’ve done is to realize the wish of translating these 2D materials into three-dimensional structures,” – Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Try making a beam out of this foamy stuff. If you could, it would be strong enough to hold the weight of a semi-tractor trailer. At the same time, you don’t need a forklift to transport it around, you could just bend down and pick it up. It might just weigh about the same as a luggage.
Unbeknownst to most, the secret behind this material is more the shape rather than the graphene.
“The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.” – Buehler
Buehler believes that applying the geometry to different metals or polymers can possibly lend them similar gains in strength. For instance, a concrete bridge that has been created using this porous shape can make it stronger, lighter and even more well-insulated.