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Titanium is a highly biocompatible metal and a great material to use in the field of medical applications. In particular, titanium foam has the potential to replace injured bone by mimicking its spongy structure. Unlike solid titanium, the foam allows blood vessels and existing bone cells to grow into it, effectively integrating it with the skeleton. This makes it easier for the implant to heal and prevents inflammation. It also encourages stronger bone regrowth, making it a better replacement for damaged bones.
Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new titanium alloy with a porous foam-like structure that can be used to make stronger, lighter, and more flexible medical implants. The process begins by saturating a polyurethane foam with a solution of titanium powder and binding agents. The titanium clings to the foam, forming a titanium lattice. This is then heat-treated to harden it.
The resulting titanium foams are very strong and have an energy absorption of over 60 MPa in compression, bending, and shear. They are also relatively ductile and elastic, allowing them to absorb significant amounts of energy during deformation. The foams can be characterized structurally by their pore topology (relative percentage of open vs. closed pores) and porosity (the percentage of void spaces within the material).
To increase their strength, the team added a small amount of binder to the titanium powder. This increased the tensile strength by about 30%, and it also improved the foams’ elasticity and ability to absorb energy. The foams’ elasticity and energy absorption can be attributed to both the ordered cell geometry and the soft base material. In addition, the shear bands that form during compression are much smaller in the foams with truncated octahedron cells than in those with rhombic dodecahedron cells.