Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new structure of graphene many times stronger than steel, but with 95 percent lower density.

3-D-printed gyroid models such as this one were used to test the strength and mechanical properties of a new lightweight material. Credit: Melanie Gonick/MIT

The key to the material’s strength is found in its structure. The researchers at MIT came up with various 3D models and tested them in computer simulations before attempting to construct them, in reality, using 3-D-printing.

Graphene in its two-dimensional form is thought to be the strongest of all known materials. But researchers have had a hard time translating that two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.

The MIT researchers were able to build three-dimensional structures by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, into a new sponge-like material.

The material is porous with a large surface area, which means higher strengths at lower weights. They effectively made the material even lighter without compromising its strength and the result is a configuration with a density of just 5 percent and a strength 10 times that of steel.

MIT writes in a press release that the same geometry could be applied to large-scale structural materials such as concrete for a structure such a bridge might be made with this porous geometry, providing strength at a fraction of the weight.

The material approach would also have the additional benefit of providing good insulation because of a large amount of enclosed airspace within it.


Researchers design one of the strongest, lightest materials known