MIT creates the strongest lightweight material in the world, with huge ramifications
For centuries now, scientists, engineers, mechanics, and anyone interested in building things have had to balance the cost of a material’s weight against its strength. It’s an accepted part of the equation, but a new discovery may radically change that for the better.
Researchers from MIT have created a new material that is ten times stronger than steel, but only five-percent as dense. That makes it extremely strong, but also incredibly lightweight. The ramifications are vast.
The researchers focused on the manipulation of carbon. For years now, scientists have known that they can arrange carbon in a particular way to create the material graphene. By making an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions, it is possible to produce the graphene, which is known as the strongest in the world.
The problem is that graphene – while very thin and incredibly tough – is also difficult to make into three-dimensional shapes. Manufacturers were forced to stick with flat sheets of the material and work around its limitations. That made it an interesting material, but only useful in very specific circumstances.
The researchers at MIT discovered that they could take small flakes of graphene and fuse them into a mesh-like structure, which would allow the material to retain the strength of graphene while forming 3D shapes. It is also porous, which increases the potential uses.
“The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features,” MIT states.
More research is needed, but if the material is as advertised, and it can be created in multiple shapes, the potential uses are endless.
Anything with thrust could be hugely impacted by this material. In general, the more something weighs, the more energy it requires to move it. The more energy it uses, the more fuel it requires. If you could make something significantly lighter without sacrificing durability or structural integrity, it would change everything.
Automobiles could be much tougher and weigh much, much less, which would increase their speed and drastically improve fuel efficiency. Vehicles that fly would also take a huge step forward. Planes could become much more durable while the weight decrease could lead to less fuel, which in turn should be cheaper for passengers.
One incredibly appealing use for this material would be space travel. When it comes to both lifting off and out of the atmosphere, and traveling through the vacuum, weight is a major factor – maybe even the single biggest factor. The more weight a vessel carries the more fuel it needs. The more fuel it needs, the more weight that fuel adds, and so on. If this material could be made to be airtight (something it hasn’t yet shown it can be), then it could have an immediate, and major impact on all space exploration.
Of course, this is all still just a material in a lab. Still, the possibilities are revolutionary.