Researchers Have 3D Printed LEGO-Like Bricks and Tools Using Simulated Martian Dust

Mars, that glorious red wanderer in the sky, may be humanity’s next vacation spot in the solar system (the first visitors get to say they were there before it was cool warm!), but the old cold planet coated in oxidized iron rust and pockmarked with canyons and massive dormant volcanoes still poses a lot of trouble when it comes to the whole actually living there thing. But teams of researchers are on it, and one of them says that it can 3D print a pretty nifty set of LEGO-like bricks and tools almost purely made of simulated Martian dust.

According to a press release from Northwestern University, which comes via Gizmodo, Ramille Shah and her Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing researchers—it’s a TEAM team—at the college’s McCormick School of Engineering have figured out a way to 3D print bendable, rubbery tools, and bricks that are described as “similar to Legos [ LEGO?]” because they are interlocking and can be used as building blocks. 3D printed tools and bricks using simulated Martian and Lunar dust. Image: Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering

In the TEAM team’s paper, published in Nature, the method for 3D printing the bricks and tools is described as a “new approach for additively manufacturing planetary materials… [using a] powder-bed-free and energy-beam-free, resource utilization scheme for fabricating user-defined, soft-material structures from unrefined, highly inhomogeneous regoliths.” In other words, we can take Martian dust, load it into a 3D printer as a building material and crank out some usable objects. Keep in mind that if we’re talking about Martian dust, we’re talking about very, very tiny particles. Martian dust particles can have a diameter of around 30 micrometers, which is just a bit smaller than that of a human hair.

Shah’s team was also able to build bricks and tools using simulated Lunar dust, but since nobody ever had to science the shit out of the Moon, it seems a bit less glamorous—though still very cool!

What do you think about these 3D-printed objects using simulated Martian and Lunar dust? Were you surprised that it took all the way until the last paragraph for a Mark Watney reference? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Wikimedia / Dmytr0

GIF: 20th Century Fox via Morbotron

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