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A new 3D printed graphene material is stronger than steel.

According to MIT News, a team of researchers has designed a revolutionary material. It is said to be the strongest, lightweight material made from a two-dimensional form of carbon, graphene. Despite only having 5 per cent the density, it is 10 times as strong as steel and, consequently, seen as the most robust substance known. 

Supported by the Office of Naval Research, BASF-North American Center for Research on Advanced Materials and the Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, the new findings ring in a revolutionary development within engineering and construction, among other industries. 

Let's take a closer look at what exactly these MIT researchers has designed and how this might impact the construction industry. 

There's a strong, new material in town

Markus Buehler, the head of MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and others are the masterminds behind the development, documenting their findings in a paper in the journal Science Advances. 

According to the team, they compressed flakes of graphene using pressure and heat, so as to produce a stable and resistant structure that resembles corals. The essential factor of the 3D forms, the scientists say is the geometrical configuration of the material. 

CEE Researcher Zhao Qin explains that once the group succeeded with computational simulations, they tested their development to discover its capabilities. 

"Once we created these 3-D structures, we wanted to see what's the limit what's the strongest possible material we can produce," he said. 

The point of difference

Back in 2015, Boeing introduced what they called the 'lightest metal ever'. Phys.org reported that the research put into this particular metal aimed to reduce the weight of airplanes and rockets, therefore making them more fuel efficient. 

The design has potential to open up new avenues particularly in construction and engineering.

Made out of walls of nanontubes, the lattice like structure of the metal was revolutionary. Now, the MIT researchers took it a step further by using a multimaterial, high-resolution 3D printer instead of etching – a way of scraping metal into the desired shape. 

The key difference between the two materials though, is the fact that Buehler and his colleagues are able to use other materials, such as polymers or metals, to achieve similar results in terms of cost efficiency, strength and processing methods.

"You can replace the material itself with anything," Buehler suggested. "The geometry is the dominant factor. It's something that has the potential to transfer to many things."

This insight also means the design has potential to open up new avenues particularly in the construction and engineering industries, where material costs are a key factor in project budgets

"The combination of computational modelling with 3-D-printing-based experiments used in this paper is a powerful new approach in engineering research," Huajian Gao, a professor of engineering at Brown University said. 

His comment suggests this might be the beginning of a new era of construction, where architectural restrictions in terms of weight are inherently different. In terms of what this means for operations at the moment, it's unlikely that we will see a substantial change immediately.

However, for those organisations looking ahead, it'll be increasingly important to consider how they could utilise lower-cost materials to replace steel and the likes. It is a space worth keeping an eye on.

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