Construction materials

New discovery in animal exoskeletons leads to advances in design of building materials

Monash University researchers have discovered a new design pattern derived from the rigid outer covering of invertebrates that can help create more damage-tolerant materials for future buildings and constructions.

In an article published in Nature CommunicationProf. Wenhui Duan from the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University says the new pattern, which adds to the eight known and common biological structural design patterns, can add a high-strength pattern to commonly used building materials such as composites and cement, and can help reduce carbon emissions.

The cement industry is one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide, creating up to 8% of global human emissions of this gas; this discovery will help reduce the use of cement by improving the material’s damage tolerance.

The research team replicated the design pattern in cement, one of the world’s most consumed building materials. They adopted a 3D printing technique combined with nanotechnology and artificial intelligence to fabricate a lightweight cement composite that adopted this segmental design pattern, demonstrating superior load capacity and a unique progressive failure pattern.

“We have demonstrated the application of this design pattern in the production of a high strength, damage tolerant lightweight cementitious material. In addition, this design pattern can also be applied to various materials such as ceramic, cementitious glass, polymer and metallic materials for the design of advanced materials, energy storage/conversion and architectural structures, in collaboration with teams from the University of Queensland and the University of Manchester,” explains Professor Duan.

Since the 1972 discovery of the helical structure, one of the most common structural patterns in biology, there has been a drive to extract design patterns from over 7 million living species worldwide to help the manufacture of structured/structural materials.

After nearly 50 years of research, remarkable repeats have been confirmed in most species classes, but only eight categories of design patterns have been extracted and adopted in material design, so far.

The novel design structure has been identified in various species such as arthropod exoskeletons, mammalian, amphibian and reptile legs. These design patterns are valuable sources of inspiration for modern material design and facilitate the manufacture of structural materials.

“Compared to the current design pattern, our segmental design pattern dissipates energy through segment rotation. The beauty of our uncovered design pattern is that the material can exhibit unique periodic progressive failure behavior. This means we can contain the damage in a particular region of material, while the rest of the structure can still maintain integrity and most (about 80%) of the load-bearing capacity.”

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Materials provided by Monash University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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