Recent scientific findings that unveil the remarkable structural performance of plants could completely change what we think of as “green architecture.” Researchers at Purdue University who conducted an experiment on cellulose nanocrystals concluded that the material, which is the structural basis of plant life, has the stiffness of steel.

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Cellulose can be found in plants, vegetables, algae, some marine organisms and bacteria. According to a recent experiment conducted at Purdue University in Indiana, this biomaterial could be the ultimate renewable resource, particularly since it is so abundant and produced as waste in the paper and food industry. Cellulose nanocrystals are a potential alternative to carbon nanotubes, polymers and concrete.

When the researchers tested cellulose nanocrystals during the Purdue experiment, they found that this seemingly fragile material is only 500 nanometers long, but exhibits the remarkable stiffness of 206 gigapascals – the same as steel.

Because of tiny samples sizes, testing this material was impossible in the past. This time the scientists used quantum mechanics to unlock the super material’s potential, a scientific breakthrough that could open the door to a future in which all architecture could mimic the structural performance and behavior of plants.

+ Purdue University

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