gyroidResearchers have been trying to get graphene to behave as a 3D material for some time. Their work might have finally paid off, but not in the way expected.

Graphene is one of the strongest materials that exists. It is also light weight and has electrical properties that could give it advantages in many functional areas. Unfortunately, it has proven to be exceedingly difficult to manufacture economically and at a scale that makes its use practical. Further, it is a material that is only one atom thick, essentially making it a 2-dimensional material.

Researchers at MIT have been able to coax graphene into a stable 3-dimensional structure using pressure and heat. In testing the material both via computer simulation and with physical models, they have found that the mechanical properties of the 3D graphene structures are due mainly to the geometry of the structure –  a gyroid –  and not so much to the properties of the material itself.

The implication is that the advantages of graphene could be achieved with conventional polymer materials formed into the gyroid structure via 3D printing. If that is the case, then substantial strength-to-weight improvements could be achieved for many applications, including use in medical devices.

photo credit: Melanie Gonick/MIT