Can Bone Structure Help Create Stronger Steel?

When comparing heavy steel used to build bridges to the bones that make up our skeletal system, you might be quick to conclude that steel wins in terms of strength. While it may seem easier to break a bone than a steel rod, our bones are notably enduring.

Steel is not without its flaws in this capacity. Like our bones, this steel also weakens over time and after cycles of stress.

But unlike our bones, steel lacks the complex, organic inner structure that enables our bodies to cope with stress and resist collapsing. If this structural advantage could be incorporated into steel, it might mean stronger, longer lasting buildings, bridges, tunnels, and other forms of infrastructure.


Image Source: Wikimedia

Inspired By The Organic Structure Of Bones
A team of researchers based out of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, Max-Planck-Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf, Germany, and MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Cambridge, MA, have published a report on a complicated, bone-inspired microstructure that could be incorporated into steel for infrastructure applications.

This organic structural incorporation is meant to reduce the type of microscopic cracks that cause the material to fracture and collapse after repeated stress cycles.

Changing The Way Steel Cracks
Through a unique steel fabrication process, the researchers incorporated thin, alternating nanoscale layers of variable crystal structures. Due to small degrees of instability, some of the layers were able to morph once stress was introduced.

The added complexity prevented cracks from forming straight lines, which serves to prevent a total collapse of a structure. The result could mean buildings, bridges, and tunnels that offer greater stability and longevity under common infrastructure stressors.

Image Source: ScienceNews   

Potential For Other Metals
This type of fabricated steel is still in its earliest experimental stages. While further testing is needed before it could be used in real world structural applications, there is promise in the principal. The structural fabrication also shows promise for incorporation into other building materials including mixed-composition metals.

Do you think this approach to steel fabrication could have a serious positive impact on the future of infrastructure? Tell us what you think about this materials research in the comments.

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Lisa Myers

Is a blogger with an interest for all things mechanical. She is a full-time mom with three active boys, who loves encouraging them to explore the world of science and engineering. They spend a lot of time together playing with Legos.

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