Harvard SEAS scientists have taken a cue or two from marine sponges and developed a new line of architecture for stronger buildings, longer bridges, and lighter spacecraft.
The study’s findings were based on the diagonally-reinforced square lattice-like skeletal structure of Euplectella aspergillum, a deep-water marine sponge.
According to the scientists, these glassy skeletons have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than the traditional lattice designs used for constructing buildings and bridges.
“We found that the sponge’s diagonal reinforcement strategy achieves the highest buckling resistance for a given amount of material,” notes first author Matheus Fernandes.
“This means that we can build stronger and more resilient structures by intelligently rearranging existing material within the structure.”
“In many fields, such as aerospace engineering, the strength-to-weight ratio of a structure is critically important,” adds senior scientists James Weaver.
“This biologically-inspired geometry could provide a roadmap for designing lighter, stronger structures for a wide range of applications.”
Diagonal lattice architectures consist of many small, closely spaced diagonal beams that evenly distribute the applied payload.
They have been the mainstay of bridges since the early 1800s, when architect and civil engineer Ithiel Town first patented them.
Though it is a simple and cost-effective way for stabilizing square lattice structures, Town’s method isn’t actually optimal; it often leads to materials being wasted and a cap on how tall structures can be built.
Enter ‘Euplectella aspergillum’, the Harvard team’s glass sponges – otherwise known as Venus’ Flower Basket.
To support its tubular body, Euplectella aspergillum employs two sets of parallel diagonal skeletal struts, which intersect over and are fused to an underlying square grid to form a robust checkerboard-like pattern.
“We’ve been studying structure-function relationships in sponge skeletal systems for more than 20 years, and these species continue to surprise us,” says Weaver.
In simulations and experiments, the Harvard team replicated this design and compared the sponge’s skeletal architecture to existing lattice geometries.
It not only proved to outperformed them all – withstanding heavier loads without buckling – but also improved overall structural strength by more than 20% without needing any additional material.
Image and content: Matheus Fernandes/Harvard SEAS