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3D printing mimics nature’s cellular architectures

Close-up of one node of triangular honeycomb

A close-up of one node of a triangular honeycomb. The structure, which consists of air surrounded by ceramic, can be designed with specific porosity. Researchers, inspired by natural cellular structures, have developed a new method to 3D print materials with independently tunable macro- and microscale porosity using a ceramic foam ink.

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Inspired by natural cellular structures, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and MIT have developed a new method to 3D print materials with independently tunable macro-and microscale porosity using a ceramic foam ink.

Their approach could be used to fabricate lightweight structural materials, thermal insulation or tissue scaffolds.

"By expanding the compositional space of printable materials, we can produce lightweight structures with exceptional stiffness," said Jennifer Lewis, Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at SEAS and senior author of a paper published about the research.

The ceramic foam ink used by the Lewis Lab contains alumina particles, water and air. By controlling the foam’s microstructure, the researchers tuned the ink’s properties and how it deformed on the microscale. Once optimized, the team printed lightweight hexagonal and triangular honeycombs, with tunable geometry, density and stiffness.

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Learn more in the NSF News From the Field story Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3D printing. (Date image taken: unknown; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Sept. 13, 2018)

Credit: Image courtesy of James Weaver/Wyss Institute

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