MIT invents material light as styrofoam, but 10 times stronger than steel


Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have done it again. This time they have come up with a material that is light yet unyielding and is the strongest material currently known. The team of researchers achieved this by compressing and fusing graphene, which is a 2-dimensional form of carbon. The new material developed which is configured to look like a sponge has a 5 percent density and is ten times stronger than steel.

MIT is best known for its programs in engineering and physical sciences and has been behind numerous other notable technologies such as the Gillette disposable razor, the link between cancer and genetics, the HP laptop and the first air-conditioned building among many other significant innovations.

Define Graphene

In the past, graphene has been two dimensional and efforts to translate it into a three-dimensional useful material have not materialized until now, which is a huge breakthrough. In the tests that have been done, the extra strength of graphene is widely attributed to its geometrical configuration, and it shows that similar materials can be made from lightweight materials by changing their geometries to increase their strength.

Features of Graphene

What makes the carbon material so different and viable for many architectural and engineering projects?

  • Graphene is 20 times less dense than steel but ten times stronger
  • It could lead to a replacement of helium for strong yet dirigible uses
  • It is as light as styrofoam, but stronger than steel
  • The strength of the 2-D graphene has been brought to the 3-D version
  • The new range of lightness and strength combination can be applied to various uses

How the MIT team managed

To successfully make the 3-D version of graphene, the team at MIT led by Professor Markus J. Buehler, Ph.D. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Center for Materials Science and Engineering, Center for Computational Engineering, had to start their research right down to the level of individual atoms of the material.

Is it just about the pattern?

The thickness of the 2-D graphene did not make it easier for the team, “They are not very useful for making 3-D materials that could be used in vehicles, buildings, or devices,” Buehler says. “What we’ve done is to realize the wish of translating these 2-D materials into three-dimensional structures.”

Small particles of graphene were combined using heat and pressure to make, the more stable 3-D structure which resembles diatoms, which are corals and little creatures. The new material was then put to the test using a compression machine and one sample stood out as it had a 5% density and was ten times stronger than steel.

Uses of the 3-D Graphene

The secret of the strength and the lightness of the new 3-D material, according to the MIT team, is in shape. This is responsible for its unique new properties and with a few adjustments, 3-D graphene can replace helium in hot air balloons. Concrete structures like bridges and buildings can benefit from the extra strength of 3-D graphene for just a fraction of the weight.