Engineers looked below the sea surface to design this incredibly strong, lightweight structure. The ceramic scaffold building block is inspired by the hierarchical construction of marine diatoms, radiolarians and sea sponges.
Drawing inspiration from organisms with silica skeletons, the one cubic millimeter blocks have demonstrated incredible tensile strength even though most of the structure is air. The strength, says the California Institute of Technology team that created the material, comes from using tiny structural elements that minimize potential flaws.
"Our findings suggest that the hierarchical design principles offered by hard biological organisms can be applied to create damage-tolerant lightweight engineering materials," the researchers conclude in a paper published in the journal Nature Materials.
Their work could lead to tough, lightweight batteries, interfaces, catalysts and implantable biomedical devices.
"With this approach, we can really start thinking about designing materials backward," says Julia Greer, a Caltech materials science and mechanics professor who led the research. “I can start with a property and say that I want something that has this strength or this thermal conductivity, for example. Then I can design the optimal architecture with the optimal material at the relevant size and end up with the material I wanted.”