Previously, composite materials could be strong in the plane of the fabric, i.e., two directions. What's different here is that it can be strong in all three directions. This implies, although the researchers don't quite say so, that the material does not have to be made in flat layers, but is a true 3D matrix structure. That implies that it could actually be strong in more than three directions. But as naperlou points out, abalone shells can break, too. Although much of that has to do with their brittleness, i.e., a quality of the material, not just how it is constructed.
Thanks, Dave, for some interesting insight into similar techniques. I came across at least three other different research projects by different people looking to capitalize on the structure of nacre (mother-of-pearl), although not this one.
Re commercialization, all we know is that it's apparently in process. The ease, cost, and success of commercialization of any technique depend on several factors not limited to the technique itself.
Effectively arranging reinforcements in three dimensions is the key to making tough composites. Coating reinforcements with superparamagnetic nanoparticles and using magnetic fields to align them is an interesting approach. Once the reinforcement is coated with these nanoparticles, it's amazing how little magnetic field is actually required to align them -- just an order of magnitude greater than the earth's natural magnetic field, and two orders of magnitude less than a common refrigerator magnet. This ultrahigh magnetic response may have other useful applications outside of composites.
At last year's Materials Science and Technology conference, Dr. Robert Ritchie gave a fascinating presentation about another method to make composites with a three-dimensional structure. He freezes water under carefully controlled conditions to create three-dimensional templates. The water is then replaced with a polymer matrix. This might prove to be more cost-effective than the technique described in this article, but only time will tell -- all of these technologies are still pretty far from commercialization.
Another great example of biomimickry, where design engineers take a page from nature to figure out tough design problems. Any sense, Ann, how practical this 3D architecture technique is to commercialize? After all, it's one thing to borrow from mother nature in terms of theoretical design, quite another to actually make it viable for productive us
What should be the perception of a product’s real-world performance with regard to the published spec sheet? While it is easy to assume that the product will operate according to spec, what variables should be considered, and is that a designer obligation or a customer responsibility? Or both?
Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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