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Sponge-Inspired Architecture for Stronger Buildings

Lattice design can increase strength while reducing material use

Sponge-Inspired Architecture for Stronger Buildings
The skeleton of Euplectella aspergillum, a deep-water marine sponge. Credit: Matheus Fernandes/Harvard SEAS

From bridges to skyscrapers to roller coasters, many of the structures city-dwellers see on a daily basis are built using square grid-like frames reinforced with a series of diagonal beams. This design, invented in the 1800s, has changed little over the last 200 years because it is cheap, strong, and lightweight – but not optimal.

A team of mechanical engineers and biologists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has discovered a superior architectural design that has been refined by Nature over the last 500 million years: the glassy skeletal system of the humble marine sponge, Euplectella aspergillum. Its skeletal system consists of two sets of parallel diagonal struts, which are fused to an underlying square grid to form a robust checkerboard-like pattern.

In laboratory tests of sample structures, the team has found that the sponge-inspired design is up to 20% stronger than traditional diagonal lattices, and could enable the creation of structures that require significantly less building material – reducing the time, cost, and resources needed.

This biologically-inspired geometry could provide a roadmap for designing lighter, stronger structures for a wide range of applications.

James Weaver

This technology is available for licensing.

The intricate skeletons of glassy sea sponges are stronger than traditional building designs, and could lead to better structures with less material waste. Credit: Harvard SEAS

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