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Tiny Clip-On Blocks Will Be Able To Create The Lightest Structures Yet

Researchers at MIT have developed a way to build large structures with lightweight materials.

Leah Gonzalez
Leah Gonzalez on August 19, 2013. @leahgonz

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a lightweight structure that can potentially revolutionize how we build planes, spacecraft, and large structures such as dikes or dams.

Research scientist Kenneth Cheung and MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms director Neil Gershenfield co-authored a paper on the study which was published recently on the Science online journal.

According to an article on MIT News, Gershenfield compared the structure to a chainmail. The lightweight structure is made of identical and interlocking parts that form a lattice structure that is ’10 times stiffer for a given weight than existing ultralight materials.’

The parts can also be easily taken down and reassembled in case it needs to be repaired or rebuilt into a different structure.

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Aside from being lightweight, another advantage of the structure is that it can be mass-produced. Usually composites are manufactured with as little parts as possible and as large continuous pieces. That is why creating structures like the wings of an airplane need large and specialized factories.

The new carbon fiber composite material can potentially reduce manufacturing costs and allow for more flexibility when it comes to design. It can also create more lightweight structures that will mean lower fuel costs and operating costs.

Gershenfield and Cheung, who will soon be joining NASA’s Ames Research Center, are building a robotic system that can assemble large structures using the new material.

Aside from Cheung and Gershenfield, the research team included MIT undergraduate Joseph Kim and alumna Sarah Hovsepian, who is now with NASA’s Ames Research Center.

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MIT

Images by Kenneth Cheung via MIT News

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