Move over nanotubes, there's a new futuristic building material in town and its origins may surprise you.
Developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), human bone is the inspiration behind the latest high-tech composite, which can be made in just a few hours using a 3D printer.
The new material, which is lauded for its durability, low density and environmentally sustainable constituents, gets its strength from its bone-like structure. Real bones have a complex hierarchical structure thanks to their two main building blocks, collagen protein and hydroxyapatite minerals.
MIT's new material replicates this hierarchical pattern, which is produced in bones with the help of electrochemical reactions. Such reactions are difficult to reproduce in a lab, but with a 3D printer, the researchers were able to replicate the fracture-resistant structure.
Under a microscope, the synthetic material the researchers created looks like a staggered brick-and-mortar wall. A soft black polymer serves as the mortar, simulating the work of collagen, bone's yielding cushion. A stiff blue polymer forms the bricks, behaving like hydroxyapatite, bone's strong but brittle frame.