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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials September 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

Ceramic Bone Implants

Why is this topic significant?

Printed ceramics have the potential to replace the metal implants surgeons use to treat broken bones and other bone conditions. Ceramics could accelerate healing times and improve treatment outcomes.

Description

Surgeons and scientists at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine and NYU College of Dentistry have published new research detailing their use of chemically coated ceramic implants to guide the regrowth of missing bone in lab animals. The team 3D printed the bone-scaffold implants before superheating them into ceramic form (the same technique also serves other medical implants such as replacement heart valves). To make the ceramic devices, the team used beta tricalcium phosphate—a compound of the same chemicals found in natural bone. This common material meant that the animals' bones were able to gradually absorb the implant as new bone material grew. The team also accelerated bone growth by coating the implant in dipyridamole, a blood thinner that promotes bone formation.

Hala Zreiqat at the University of Sydney in Australia and her colleagues have produced ceramic implants similar to those created by the NYU team. In experiments, the Australian team has repaired broken foreleg bones in rabbits using its 3D-printed ceramic implants. To make the devices, the Australian team used calcium silicate, the mineral gahnite, and small amounts of strontium and zinc (trace elements in natural bone). Like the NYU experiments, the Australian experiments showed that natural bone growth could absorb the devices.

Implications

Ceramic bone implants show significant promise. Trials suggest that ceramic devices—particularly if in use with chemical treatments—can help promote bone healing, and 3D-printing techniques offer significant flexibility in the types of scaffolds medical practitioners can produce. Plausibly, such scaffolds may be able to help in cases where conventional implants might struggle—for example, cases in which patients have significant bone deformations or very complex fractures. In addition, the ability of ceramic implants to effectively dissolve after use offers a significant advantage over today's generation of metal implants, which can require further surgery for removal or cause infections or both. Although ceramic implants are more rigid than some alternatives (including implants with plastic elasticizers), their healing benefits likely outweigh this limitation.

Realizing the benefits of ceramic bone implants will take time. As is typical with medical technologies, regulatory processes and structured clinical trials will slow commercialization. Although some animal experiments have proved successful, researchers caution that they are still "several years" away from conducting clinical trials.

Impacts/Disruptions

Reliable and effective bone-healing technologies offer significant benefit to the health-care sector. Recovery times could decrease, and outcomes could improve (including for previously difficult-to-treat accidents and conditions).

Plausibly, ceramic-bone-implant technology could eventually lead to printable bone structures that are more or less indistinguishable from natural bone. Researchers at Northwestern University are already working on printable synthetic bone for grafts. Such printable material may have applications beyond those in health care. For example, perhaps synthetic bone could provide lightweight skeletons for robotics, enable new kinds of aerial vehicles, or compose highly fuel-efficient cars.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, robotics, transportation

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

2D Materials for Advanced Data Storage

By Sean R. Barulich
Barulich is a senior research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are studying 2D materials to produce new data-storage technologies. 2D materials may enable novel memory technologies with greater storage density and energy than current memory technologies have, or they may enhance conventional devices.

Description

Researchers are using various two-dimensional (2D) materials to develop new memory technologies. Although many technical challenges require addressing before 2D material memory technologies reach the market, recent developments demonstrate important progress in the field. For example, researchers at the University of Washington used layers of 2D materials to build a magnetic memory device, which enabled greater control over electron flow by exploiting spin orientation. In the study, researchers used multiple sheets of chromium triiodide—a 2D magnetic insulator—sandwiched between graphene contacts to create a system of magnetic tunnel junctions that, when cooled, demonstrated high magnetoresistance ideal for spintronic memory technologies. The researchers used concepts from previous research and applied electric fields to control the magnetic properties of their atomically thin device accurately. The researchers found that their multilayer device has the potential to see use for multibit data storage by changing the electrons' rate of flow in the 2D-material layers with applied electric fields. The advancement could enable the possibility of 2D magnetic memory devices with high information density and low energy consumption.

Scientists are also using 2D materials to develop new memory devices that leverage advantages in both volatile and nonvolatile memory by using emerging transistor technology. For example, researchers at China's Fudan University used 2D tungsten diselenide to produce semi-floating-gate-memory (SFG) technology, which can store its state and provides finer control over electron flow than do other transistor-gate technologies. The researchers used the SFG technology to produce a "quasi-non-volatile" memory device, which demonstrated refresh times that are longer (and save energy) and writing operations that are slightly faster than those of volatile dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). In addition, the researchers demonstrated that the SFG memory device could perform writing operations much faster than can other emerging memory devices built with 2D materials.

Implications

2D materials have the potential to enable novel memory systems with writing-operation speeds that are faster, data-storage density that is higher, and power requirements that are lower than those of conventional memory devices. 2D materials have favorable electrical properties that conventional semiconductors lack. However, researchers developing novel 2D memory devices face challenges. For example, 2D-material synthesis is difficult to scale to conventional wafer production, and many production methods introduce defects. In addition, 2D-material-based-system behavior has traditionally been difficult to control. Although much further R&D is still necessary to produce commercial 2D memory systems, advancements are accelerating as semiconductor manufacturers shrink processors and improve manufacturing techniques.

Impacts/Disruptions

If researchers can improve their understanding of layered 2D insulators and conductor systems (van der Waals heterostructures), new memory and transistor-gate technologies may be enabled. In addition, research into promising 2D materials such as molybdenum disulfide, tungsten disulfide, and other transition metal dichalcogenide monolayers may lead to the development of advanced transistors, optoelectronics, and sensors. If researchers address the technical challenges of producing 2D memory technologies, novel systems with sub-5-nanometer gate dimensions may see development, which may enable computing hardware to shrink further.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Electronic devices, materials research, data storage, semiconductor manufacturing

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: