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Researchers are digging into the resilient traits of objects in nature to design products that will withstand the risks of future climate change. In this case, a paste that can be 3D printed, designed with the resiliency of lobster and beetle shells.

A 3D-printed cement paste could one day be used to make buildings more resilient to natural disasters, claim researchers from Purdue University. Although it sounds paradoxical, the paste actually gets tougher the more it cracks. This makes it a potentially invaluable new building material.

“Cement-based materials such as concrete are brittle and crack as they deform,” Reza Moini, a doctoral candidate in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering at Purdue, told Digital Trends. “Using the findings of this work, we can produce structural elements for buildings and habitats that can resist dynamic loads such as impact, experienced during [an] earthquake, without failure.”

Jan Olek, a professor of civil engineering and another researcher on the project, noted that nature has to deal with weaknesses to survive, so the team is using the “built-in” weaknesses of cement-based materials to increase their toughness. They have done this by creating 3D-printed materials inspired by the properties found in arthropod shells, the shells belonging to animals such as lobsters and beetles. The biomechanical design of these shells allows them to take large amounts of punishment.

Some patterns which the printed paste could be used to replicate include honeycomb patterns or printed filaments following a helicoidal pattern. “3D printing has removed the need for creating a mold for each type of design, so that we can achieve these unique properties of cement-based materials that were not possible before,” said Jeffrey Youngblood a professor of materials engineering at Purdue.

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