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Scientists from the University of Southern California (USC) are using 3D printing to investigate the the potential of smart metamaterials. Adding the brick-and-mortar structure of high-strength nacre (aka mother of pearl) to electrically conductive graphene, the team have demonstrated the ability to create self-sensing armor. Proven in a small-scale experiment with a LEGO figurine, a recent paper highlights how the process could be used to monitor damage to the body.
According to the study, “Such a new fabrication technique could enable the design and fabrication of the smart structures that are lightweight yet strong for various potential applications in biomedical, aerospace, transportation, sports, and military industries.”
Electrically assisted 3D printing
The USC team’s smart-armor experiment is undertaken using a custom vat polymerization 3D printer and resin. At the bottom of the vat, the team inserts a two-layer teflon/PDMS film and an electrode for the purpose of generating an electric field. The resin the team uses is premixed with graphene nanoplatelets (GNs).
GNs - Random - Properties - Structure - USC
3D printed regularly, the GNs in this random are randomly arranged, giving variable properties to the overall structure. In the USC team’s approach, however, they use the electric field to uniformly align these particles layer by layer, resulting in a nacre-like structure.
Mechanically, the fracture toughness for this GN-reinforced material is significantly higher than polymer alone, in some cases increasing the MPa by 115%. As a means of testing this property, the team conduct a mini-helmet experiment.
LED - USC - Team - Helmet - Pressure
Linked up to a small red LED, the USC team’s 3D printed helmet is designed to “sense” pressure...
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