Researchers develop method to design synthetic bone and quickly turn the design into reality using computer optimization and 3-D printing

June 17, 2013

Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Researchers working to design new materials that are durable, lightweight and environmentally sustainable are increasingly looking to natural composites, like bone, for inspiration. Bone is strong and tough because its two constituent materials, soft collagen protein and stiff hydroxyapatite mineral, are arranged in complex hierarchical patterns that change at every scale of the composite, from the micro up to the macro. 

Markus Buehler and team designed and printed this simulated bone and nacre with a brick-and-mortar pattern, shown here with real nacre found in the inner shell of molluscs.  Photo / Graham Bratzel
Markus Buehler and team designed and printed this simulated bone and nacre with a brick-and-mortar pattern, shown here with real nacre found in the inner shell of molluscs. Photo / Graham Bratzel

While researchers have come up with hierarchical structures in the design of new materials, going from a computer model to the production of physical artifacts has been a persistent challenge. This is because the hierarchical structures that give natural composites their strength are self-assembled through electrochemical reactions, a process not easily replicated in the lab. 

Now researchers in CEE have developed an approach that allows them to turn their designs into reality. In just a few hours, they can move directly from a multiscale computer model of a synthetic material to the creation of physical samples. 

In a paper