Published on: Mar 21, 2017

What could a material that is 10 times stronger than steel and is also much lighter, look and feel like? Well, material science has just surpassed another major milestone as scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) successfully developed a material which is ten times stronger than steel but is also one of the lightest, with a density of just 5% of that of steel. They produced the material by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, which is a two-dimensional form of carbon. Of all known materials, graphene is presumably the strongest, in its two-dimensional form but it was quite a challenge for researchers trying to convert this two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.

Amazing geometrical configuration

To their surprise, the scientists found that graphene and its composition is not what makes it so strong; rather, it is the atomic structure of the material and its unusual 3-D geometrical configuration, which is the main source of its strength. This means, in addition to graphene, there are other base materials that can be converted into similar strong and lightweight materials by creating such geometric configuration in their basic structure. According to Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the McAfee Professor of Engineering, “You can replace the material itself with anything. The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”

The scientists worked out the mathematical framework closely matching experimental observations after analyzing the graphene’s behavior down to the level of individual atoms within its structure. A combination of heat and pressure helped them compress small flakes of graphene producing a strong and stable structure resembling the form of some corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms. These new shapes turned out to be very strong as their surface area is much larger in proportion to their volume.

So how will it benefit application areas in the metallurgical and structural engineering industry especially those that use huge amounts of steel, such as the automobile, heavy engineering, ship-building and construction industry among others?

Application in building and construction material

The scientists said that graphene can eventually have many other applications requiring a combination of extreme strength and light weight. Buehler suggests, “You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers