Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has leveraged a new type of nanoscale 3D printing to push the limits of material science forward. Using a process developed by a German company called Nanoscribe, Jens Bauer and his team developed a new material that is less dense than water, but as strong as some forms of steel. This is the first evidence that these theorized materials can actually exist.
Advanced materials are often made with composites or plastic, but can also rely on careful structural design. To design this new material, Bauer looked at the 3-dimensional structure of substances that are less dense than water, but still fairly strong, like wood and bone. The KIT material is inspired by those delicate structures produced in nature.
Nanoscribe’s technology works by illuminating a drop of viscous polymer with a laser in a precise pattern. The points in the material hit by the laser solidify and the excess can be washed off. The resulting 3D structure is then coated with a layer of aluminium oxide for added strength. This helps refine ideas about how to design new materials, but it isn’t practical on its own.