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Lobster Shell Patterns May Lead To Stronger Concrete, Researchers Say

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Researchers in Australia think they have a way to make concrete even stronger. Needless to say, the building material is already pretty tough, but a study finds it could be tougher. According to that research, concrete could take even more punishment if applied in a pattern copied from lobster shells. Jonathan Tran is the study's lead researcher at a university in Melbourne.

JONATHAN TRAN: The reason we are interested in natural material like lobster shells because lobster, like many marine creatures that appear on Earth, like, 400 million years ago, evolve over the time to deal with very harsh environment because they live under the seabed.

INSKEEP: People who've eaten lobster know that cracking that shell takes work.

TRAN: The lobster shell is really interesting because if you look at outside, it look like very thin shell and one layer. It's about less than one millimeter in thickness. But if you look into microscope, it has hundreds of layers underneath it.

NOEL KING, HOST:

All of those hundreds of layers make the shell extra durable.

TRAN: And if you notice, the lobster shell is very curvy as well. So the orientation of different layer with respect to each other help the structures stronger.

KING: But Tran admits that recreating the shells isn't that easy. So they're trying to use 3D printers to do it.

TRAN: 3D printing has been a way for different type of material like metals or in plastic for biomedical, for automotive, for aerospace application. But in construction, it had just recently captured the interest.

INSKEEP: Tran and his team built 3D-printed concrete that copies the lobster pattern.

TRAN: You know, the structure is really strong. And by learning from this creature like lobster shells, we can learn some lesson on designing stronger and lighter materials.

INSKEEP: It's good timing for this because people are also building bigger and bigger 3D printers, ones that can build houses or even two-story buildings.

KING: But as you might imagine, those are difficult to move. So the scientists have their eye on a workaround.

TRAN: The other approach that we are working on is to make it modular so basically we can build part by part and connect them together.

KING: Tran hopes the new concrete will help build structures that can withstand high winds, floods and other conditions caused by climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK LOBSTER")

THE B-52'S: (Singing) It wasn't a rock. It was a rock lobster. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.