A team of researchers working at Purdue University have just discovered what could be called the next big super-material. It could also be called a carrot. By looking at the structures that make up plants, the team of scientists discovered that the building blocks that make up veggies and trees have the same stiffness as steel. We could be at the doorstep of a discovery that will allow humanity to grow construction materials like house plants.
Cellulose nanocrystals, the basic structures of plant life, were put to the test during the Purdue experiment and were found to have a stiffness of 206 gigapascals, which is precisely the stiffness of steel. Obviously, trees are not as stiff as steel and you don't have to be The Hulk to eat a carrot, so a bit of scientific work will have to be done to unlock this new-found veggie power.
The nanocrystals studied were only 500 nanometers long by three nanometers wide — not exactly your steel girders. The next, and seriously daunting, task for the research team is to figure out how to construct the perfect nanocrystalline cellulose structure and then implement it. Once that's done, we could see plant-based structures grown in the lab and capable of reinforcing everything from skyscrapers to the cars we drive.