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Inspired by Nature, Researchers Build a Tougher Metal

Drawing inspiration from the structure of bones and bamboo, researchers have gradually changed the internal structure of metals to make stronger, tougher materials. The new metals can be customized for a wide variety of applications — from body armor to automobile parts.

The research team tested the new approach in interstitial free (IF) steel, which is used in some industrial applications.

If conventional IF steel is made strong enough to withstand 450 megapascals (MPa) of stress, it has very low ductility – the steel can only be stretched to less than 5 percent of its length without breaking. Low ductility means a material is susceptible to catastrophic failure, such as suddenly snapping in half. Highly ductile materials can stretch, meaning they are more likely to give people time to respond to a problem before total failure.

The researchers are also interested in using the gradient structure approach to make materials more resistant to corrosion, wear, and fatigue.

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