Researchers develop a soft shell for ceramics to prevent them from shattering

Ceramics are becoming more and more common in electronics and other devices. Anyone who's ever dropped a ceramic plate knows that while the material can stand up to heat and is long-lasting, it tends to shatter when it hits a hard surface. Researchers at Rice University have developed a new coating to help ceramics made with 3D printers survive without shattering.The team found that coating the ceramics with a soft shell makes them less likely to shatter. The soft polymer layer that coats the ceramic is cured under ultraviolet light. Researchers liken the coating process for the ceramics to the process used to treat windshield glass, making it less likely to shatter.

During their research, the team proved through experiments and simulations that the polymer coating, not more than 100 microns thick, can make fragile schwarzites up to 4.5 times more resistant to fractures. Schwarzites are complex lattices that were theorized for decades and can now be built using 3D printers. When the material is coated with the polymer, they come to resemble structures found in nature, such as seashells and bones that have hardened platelets in a biopolymer matrix.

Researchers note that the structures can still crack under pressure with the polymer coating applied, but they won't fall apart. Comparatively, uncoated structures are very brittle and will break apart. Researchers say that while their coated structures will completely break, they don't break into pieces remaining enclosed like laminated glass.

During the research, the team also compared the coated schwarzites to coated solid ceramics and found that porous structures were inherently tougher. One of the researchers said that the team saw if they coded a solid structure, the effect of the polymer was not as effective as it was on the schwarzite. The polymer can infuse defects in the ceramics and enhance the overall resistance.