MIT's New Artificial Bones Might Outperform The Real Thing


Skeleton  Under Microscope

Bone Under Microscope

This is somewhat surprising, researchers at MIT have developed a new composite material which is inspired by bone. That’s right, bone, as in skeletons.

Real bones get their strength from a complex hierarchical structure consisting of their two main building blocks, collagen protein and hydroxyapatite minerals.

The material bones are made of are hard to recreate.To no surprise however, a 3D printer is involved using a 3D printer they were able to recreate a bone like structure in this new material.

Under a microscope, the synthetic material the researchers created looks like a staggered brick-and-mortar wall. A soft black polymer serves as the mortar, simulating the work of collagen, bone’s yielding cushion. A stiff blue polymer forms the bricks, behaving like hydroxyapatite, bone’s strong but brittle frame.

And just as collagen and hydroxyapatite help a bone withstand fracturing by dissipating energy and distributing damage over a larger area, so too does the lab-made material. In fact, the material may prove to be even stronger than bone.

“The geometric patterns we used in the synthetic materials are based on those seen in natural materials like bone or nacre, but also include new designs that do not exist in nature,” said Markus Buehler, lead researcher in the study.

“As engineers, we are no longer limited to the natural patterns. We can design our own, which may perform even better than the ones that already exist.”

The 3D-printed bone material is 22 times more fracture-resistant than any of its constituent parts, an impressive ratio for a lab-made composite.

Researchers suggest that the process of 3D printing super-strong metamaterials is both entirely possible and more cost-effective than traditional methods of manufacturing. Buehler hopes that one day, optimized materials like the one created in MIT’s lab will form the basis of entire buildings.

“The possibilities seem endless,” he said, “As we are just beginning to push the limits of the kind of geometric features and material combinations we can print.”

This would be perfect for building material, but also for lighter prophetesses and other things as well.