Feb 5, 2018 | By Tess

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are at the forefront of new materials design and, according to a recent study, have just made a significant breakthrough that could have an impact on 3D printing.

The study, recently published in the journal Science Advances, details a new system capable of generating microstructures based on the desired properties of a material. In other words, materials designers can input the properties they want their materials to have and the program will automatically design a microstructure to meet those demands.

Microstructures are present in just about everything: from our own bones, to plants, and even in sea shells. In fact, researchers have often turned to the marvels of nature to gain insight into optimizing man-made materials. For instance, one effort has drawn inspiration from lobsters for the development of new and more effective 3D printed body armor.

In the recent MIT project, the researchers have successfully used their system to design and produce microstructures with three different but equally optimal mechanical properties. This, however, is just the beginning of the software’s potential, says associate professor of electrical and computer science Wojciech Matusik, who is leading the project.

“We did it for relatively simple mechanical properties, but you can apply it to more complex mechanical properties, or you could apply it to combinations of thermal, mechanical, optical, and electromagnetic properties,” he explained. “Basically, this is a completely automated process for discovering optimal structure families for metamaterials.”

This microstructure revelation follows on a previous research effort from the same team dating back to last summer, in which they developed a simulation software that could quickly and accurately “score” 3D models based on their mechanical properties.

And though the system itself is quite complicated (it consists of measuring geometric similarities of microstructures, clustering them together, extracting a skeleton, and correlating geometries and properties), users can benefit from it being completely automated.

The versatile technology can be used not only to evaluate any collection of microstructures, but can reportedly be used in combination with existing materials design approaches. That is, not only can the system be useful for organic-inspired material development, but can also be useful for researchers designing their own microstructures from scratch.

“You can throw this into the bucket for your sampler,” said Matusik. “So we guarantee that we are at least as good as anything else that has been done before.”

In reference to 3D printing, the microstructure generation system could enable users to customize the mechanical properties of a 3D printed part. Let’s say you need a bone implant with a particular strength and rigidity: the system could feasibly generate a 3D printable microstructure that would meet the requirements.

The MIT research project is supported by funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Simplifying Complexity in Scientific Discovery program.



Posted in 3D Software



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