BOSTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Material scientists at MIT have developed a super strong but lightweight material by fusing graphene flakes into a porous, 3D form.
In its 2D form, graphene is one of the strongest materials yet tested, but researchers have struggled to maintain graphene's physical qualities in 3D form. A team of researchers at MIT found a way around the problem.
When compressed in the lab using heat and pressure, graphene flakes fuse into a unique geometrical configuration similar to the structural form of coral. The results -- detailed in the journal Science Advances -- suggest other 2D materials can be converted into 3D forms in a similar way.
Researches used their new method to develop a variety of forms, varying the heat, pressure and starting material to yield different results.
"One of our samples has 5 percent the density of steel, but 10 times the strength," research scientist Zhao Qin told MIT News.
Computer models allowed scientists to study each material's structural form and simulate its response to loading. The findings suggest a 3D material's tensile and compressive properties are dependent on the geometry of its structure, not the strength of the 2D material from which it is derived.
"You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals," explained Markus Buehler, the head of MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "You can replace the material itself with anything. The geometry is the dominant factor. It's something that has the potential to transfer to many things."