Drawing inspiration from the remarkable resilience of plants, Australian scientists have pioneered a groundbreaking metamaterial, leveraging lasers and metal powder to achieve unprecedented strength-to-weight ratios. This sci-fi-like creation, born from nature’s blueprint, holds immense potential across diverse industries.

The quest for materials that combine strength with lightweight properties has long captivated material scientists, with applications ranging from medical implants to aerospace engineering. Seeking to emulate the hollow lattice structures found in resilient plants like the Victoria water lily, researchers have endeavored to replicate nature’s design in metal. However, previous attempts utilizing conventional manufacturing methods fell short, primarily due to an uneven distribution of load stress.

Addressing this challenge, Professor Ma Qian and his team at RMIT University harnessed an advanced metal 3D-printing technique to fabricate a metamaterial with a lattice structure capable of more evenly distributing load stress. Unlike traditional 3D printing, which extrudes material layer by layer, their method, known as “laser powder bed fusion,” involves selectively melting metal powder with a laser, layer upon layer, to form intricate patterns.

The resulting metamaterial, crafted from a common titanium alloy, demonstrated remarkable strength, boasting a 50% increase over the strongest alloy of similar density used in aerospace applications. Qian explained, “We designed a hollow tubular lattice structure complemented by a thin internal band, combining strength and lightness in a novel manner. By effectively merging two complementary lattice structures, we circumvent the weak points inherent in conventional materials.”

While the innovative metamaterial holds immense promise, its adoption in real-world applications may initially face challenges due to the specialized nature of the manufacturing process. Lead author Jordan Noronha acknowledged this hurdle, noting that traditional manufacturing techniques may not suffice for fabricating such intricate metal structures. However, as technology advances, the accessibility and efficiency of laser powder bed fusion are expected to improve, paving the way for widespread implementation of these high-strength, multi-topology metamaterials.

As scientists continue to draw inspiration from nature’s ingenious designs, the development of biomimetic materials like the Australian team’s metamaterial represents a significant leap forward in material science, offering novel solutions to age-old challenges in engineering and beyond.

By Impact Lab