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The cellular forms of natural materials are the inspiration behind a new lightweight, 3D printed smart architected material developed by an international team of engineers.

The team, led by engineers from the University of Glasgow, mixed a common form of industrial plastic with carbon nanotubes to create a material which is tougher, stronger and smarter than comparable conventional materials.

The nanotubes also allow the otherwise nonconductive plastic to carry an throughout its structure. When the structure is subjected to mechanical loads, its electrical resistance changes. This phenomenon, known as piezoresitivity, gives the material the ability to "sense" its structural health.

By using advanced 3D printing techniques that provide a high level of control over the design of printed structures, they were able to create a series of intricate designs with mesoscale porous architecture, which helps to reduce each design's overall weight and maximize mechanical performance.

The team's cellular designs are similar to porous materials found in the , like beehives, sponge and bone, which are lightweight but robust.

The researchers believe that their cellular materials could find new applications in medicine, prosthetics and automobile and aerospace design, where low-density, tough materials with the ability too self-sense are in demand.

The is available online as an early view paper in the journal Advanced Engineering Materials.

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