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Superstrong sea sponge could help build better spacecraft

The intricate structure of this marine sponge is already mimicked in engineering and architecture, and now we know we were missing a trick that can make our designs even stronger

Life



30 September 2020

Image courtesy of Matheus Fernan

Image courtesy of
Matheus Fernandes/Harvard SEAS

THIS extraordinary, intricate marine sponge that lives deep in the Pacific Ocean could inspire even stronger, yet lightweight materials for use in anything from skyscrapers and bridges to spacecraft.

The Venus’s flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is classed as a glass sponge because the lattice skeleton that supports its tubular body is made of silica. The skeleton’s chessboard-like geometry, formed from diagonal struts fused to an underlying grid, is mimicked in architectural design to achieve things like evenly spreading loads across a bridge or shelf.

Yet even though the technique …