Three-dimensional-printing of bio-inspired composites

Grace Xiang Gu, Isabelle Su, Shruti Sharma, Jamie L. Voros, Zhao Qin, Markus J. Buehler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Optimized for millions of years, natural materials often outperform synthetic materials due to their hierarchical structures and multifunctional abilities. They usually feature a complex architecture that consists of simple building blocks. Indeed, many natural materials such as bone, nacre, hair, and spider silk, have outstanding material properties, making them applicable to engineering applications that may require both mechanical resilience and environmental compatibility. However, such natural materials are very difficult to harvest in bulk, and may be toxic in the way they occur naturally, and therefore, it is critical to use alternative methods to fabricate materials that have material functions similar to material function as their natural counterparts for large-scale applications. Recent progress in additive manufacturing, especially the ability to print multiple materials at upper micrometer resolution, has given researchers an excellent instrument to design and reconstruct natural-inspired materials. The most advanced 3D-printer can now be used to manufacture samples to emulate their geometry and material composition with high fidelity. Its capabilities, in combination with computational modeling, have provided us even more opportunities for designing, optimizing, and testing the function of composite materials, in order to achieve composites of high mechanical resilience and reliability. In this review article, we focus on the advanced material properties of several multifunctional biological materials and discuss how the advanced 3D-printing techniques can be used to mimic their architectures and functions. Lastly, we discuss the limitations of 3D-printing, suggest possible future developments, and discuss applications using bio-inspired materials as a tool in bioengineering and other fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number021006
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D-printing
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Bio-inspired materials
  • Biological materials
  • Composites
  • Functional design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Physiology (medical)


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