Purdue University researchers have 3-D-printed cement paste, a key ingredient of the concrete and mortar used to build various elements of infrastructure, that gets tougher under pressure like the shells of arthropods such as lobsters and beetles. The technique could eventually contribute to more resilient structures during natural disasters."Nature has to deal with weaknesses to survive, so we are using the 'built-in' weaknesses of cement-based materials to increase their toughness," said Jan Olek, a professor in Purdue's Lyles School of Civil Engineering.
The idea is to use the design of an arthropod shell to control how damage spreads between the printed layers of the material, such as trying to break through a pile of uncooked noodles rather than a single one."The exoskeletons of arthropods have crack propagation and toughening mechanisms that we can reproduce in 3-D-printed cement paste," said Pablo Zavattieri, Purdue professor of civil engineering.
3-D-printed cement-based materials—such as cement paste, mortar and concrete—would give engineers more control over design and performance, but technicalities have stood in the way of scaling them up.