NORA was established by BASF, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. At the anniversary event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the extension of NORA for another five years was officially announced.
“BASF, Harvard, MIT and UMass Amherst have engaged in an interdisciplinary approach to research. Together, we develop next generation technologies to help solve the most demanding materials, chemistry and biology-related challenges,” said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, vice chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and CTO at BASF. “To significantly advance our research, we will focus on digitalization and explore the potential of working with start-ups in the Boston area’s dynamic technology ecosystem.”
In recent years, the NORA initiative has led to significant advancements in the field of structured materials. Nature has perfected such materials, for instance, Balsa wood – a prominent example of lightweight materials, balancing low weight and remarkable strength.
A joint effort of BASF and MIT, Professors Lorna Gibson and Markus Buehler used a combination of experimental techniques and computer simulation to reveal more insights into the structure of Balsa wood – from macroscopic specimens, to the level of the cellular structure of the wood, down to chemical details at the atomic scale. In looking at the smallest details, it was determined that the wood’s strength comes from cellulosic fibers reinforcing the walls in the cellular structure in a specific geometrical arrangement.
Once this principle was discovered, the NORA team created composite materials based on the characteristics of Balsa wood. Together with Professor Ryan Hayward from UMass Amherst, researchers mimicked the smallest elongated cellular structures in polymeric foams. A collaboration with Professor Jennifer Lewis’ group at Harvard used 3D printing techniques to print honeycomb cellular structures from epoxy resins, which contained reinforcing fibers in the cell walls, just like Balsa.