3D printing of fractal space frames
Fractals are self-similar structures: a part looks like a scaled-down version of the whole. Examples occur in Nature in the form of snowflakes and fern fronds. Recently, we predicted that space-frames—like the latticework of a crane—can be designed using fractal principles to have extraordinary strength for their weight. These new structures exhibit radically new strength-to-mass scaling laws.
Fractal structures are hard to manufacture by conventional methods. But recent advances in 3D printing mean that we can finally make them, at an affordable cost. We will 3D-print fractal space frames out of polymer with different rod diameters and numbers of fractal generations. We will then test them mechanically to see if the predicted strength versus mass relation holds up in real life.
Fractal space frames can extend the limits of architecture and civil engineering. They offer new opportunities for building space stations and exploring space. One intriguing application is solar sails: large platforms which accelerate by reflecting solar radiation. Fractal space frames also contribute to resource efficiency because the gains in mechanical performance mean less material is needed.