A new ultra-stiff, ultra-light material, build out of polymers, metals and ceramics, that can withstand 1,60,000 times its own weight has been developed.

Materials with these properties could someday be used to develop parts and components for aircraft, automobiles and space vehicles.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers developed the micro-architected meta-materials — artificial materials with properties not found in nature — that maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit mass density, even at ultra-low density.

Most lightweight cellular materials have mechanical properties that degrade substantially with reduced density because their structural elements are more likely to bend under applied load.

The team’s meta-materials, however, exhibit ultra-stiff properties across more than three orders of magnitude in density.

“These lightweight materials can withstand a load of at least 1,60,000 times their own weight,” said LLNL Engineer Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng, lead author of the research.

“The key to this ultrahigh stiffness is that all the micro-structural elements in this material are designed to be over constrained and do not bend under applied load,” said Mr. Zheng.

The observed high stiffness is shown to be true with multiple constituent materials such as polymers, metals and ceramics, according to the researchers.

The additive micro-manufacturing process involves using a micro-mirror display chip to create high-fidelity 3D parts one layer at a time from photosensitive feedstock materials.

It allows the team to rapidly generate materials with complex 3D micro-scale geometries that are otherwise challenging or in some cases, impossible to fabricate.

“Now we can print a stiff and resilient material using a desktop machine. This allows us to rapidly make many sample pieces and see how they behave mechanically,” said MIT professor and key collaborator Nicholas Fang.

The team was able to build micro-lattices out of polymers, metals and ceramics.

The research was published in the journal Science.

More In: Science | Sci-Tech