Scientists at MIT have figured out a way to produce a 3D-printed artificial bone that is just as lightweight and durable as the real thing. By analyzing the structural patterns found in natural bone and mother of pearl, the team has produced a 3D-printed material that mimics the structure and performance actual bones. The new material is part of MIT’s quest to create a line of super durable and efficient metamaterials that can be used in anything from construction to medical uses.

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The artificial bone produced in MIT’s labs could be a step toward more sustainable manufacturing, enabling scientists to 3D print materials with durability that can last for years with fewer breaks and repairs. The remarkable material is especially strong because of the unique hierarchical pattern of its two main components — soft collagen protein and hard hydroxyapatite, which inspired researchers to recreate the process using two synthetic polymers.

Bone and mother of pearl are durable because of these patterns that are arranged naturally, so researchers took on the arduous task of replicating this biological arrangement with manmade materials. In a new paper titled “Advanced Functional Materials,” associate professor Markus Buehler describes the process of studying organic bone patterns and converting them into computer software designs. The team discovered the ideal combination of two synthetic polymers, which, when printed together using the bone patterns, made a strong and lightweight material. MIT’s bone material replication is just one step toward the development of super materials using 3D printing.