From DESY: “Materials made to measure”

DESY
DESY

2016/05/27

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Functional building blocks of polymers, ceramics or metals are specifically assembled on the nano-, micro- or macro level in the three project areas A, B and C of the SFB 986. How this is accomplished depends on which – partly completely new – property profile the desired material shall have. Credit: TUHH

Materials science continues to be funded as collaborative research centre

The collaborative research centre SFB 986, entitled “Tailor-Made Multiscale Material Systems – M3” will be funded for another four years by the German Research Foundation (DFG, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). SFB 986 is a collaboration between the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht (HZG), the University of Hamburg (UHH) and DESY. Overall, a sum of 13 million euros has now been granted. The second phase of funding begins on 1 July 2016.

Since 2012, some 80 scientist have been involved in 22 projects carrying out fundamental research into a new category of materials: so-called “tailor-made multiscale material systems”. The Hamburg collaborative project provides the ideal network for top-level research into material scientific issues: researchers can draw on expertise in the field of synthesising nanoparticles (UHH) and nanophotonics (TUHH), the mechanics of small systems (TUHH and HZG) as well as scattering methods, spectroscopy and tomography (DESY and HZG). The report by the DFG particularly emphasises this “living network”. “We are very pleased that our achievements so far are being recognised by the DFG in continuing to fund the SFB. The continuation of the SFB demonstrates that we are conducting top-level research in materials science on an international level,” says Gerold Schneider, spokesman for the SFB 986 and head of TUHH’s Institute of Advanced Ceramics.

Over the next four years, novel material systems are to be developed, displaying even better mechanical, electrical or photonic properties. For example, the Hamburg scientists are a step closer to producing a material that would be warmly welcomed by medical engineers. A newly developed manufacturing technique allows them to produce a material based on nanoparticles and organic molecules that displays high elasticity and strength, while at the same time being extremely hard. This material could one day be used for dental fillings, for example, or to manufacture watch cases. The aim is to open the door to an entirely new range of properties and structures, and to develop these to maturity.

The researchers at DESY’s NanoLab are in charge of a subproject, examining the interfaces of oxides and organic materials, which play a key role for the outstanding properties of these materials. In addition, they are working with TUHH on a subproject regarding polymers in nanoporous materials.

The metropolitan region of Hamburg and international materials research are being boosted in the long term by the SFB 986. This is not only demonstrated by the scientific advances being made, but also by the new master’s course in “Materials Science” which has been introduced at TUHH. At the same time, the creation of the Centre for High-Performance Materials (ZHM) at TUHH as well as other investments in the scientific field of electron microscopy, are long-term measures for establishing and strengthening this successful alliance in the field of materials research in North Germany.

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DESY is one of the world’s leading accelerator centres. Researchers use the large-scale facilities at DESY to explore the microcosm in all its variety – from the interactions of tiny elementary particles and the behaviour of new types of nanomaterials to biomolecular processes that are essential to life. The accelerators and detectors that DESY develops and builds are unique research tools. The facilities generate the world’s most intense X-ray light, accelerate particles to record energies and open completely new windows onto the universe. 
That makes DESY not only a magnet for more than 3000 guest researchers from over 40 countries every year, but also a coveted partner for national and international cooperations. Committed young researchers find an exciting interdisciplinary setting at DESY. The research centre offers specialized training for a large number of professions. DESY cooperates with industry and business to promote new technologies that will benefit society and encourage innovations. This also benefits the metropolitan regions of the two DESY locations, Hamburg and Zeuthen near Berlin.

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From phys.org: “Scientists create novel ‘liquid wire’ material inspired by spiders’ capture silk”

physdotorg
phys.org

May 16, 2016

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Hybrid material inspired from spiders. Credit: University of Oxford

Why doesn’t a spider’s web sag in the wind or catapult flies back out like a trampoline? The answer, according to new research by an international team of scientists, lies in the physics behind a ‘hybrid’ material produced by spiders for their webs.

Pulling on a sticky thread in a garden spider’s orb web and letting it snap back reveals that the thread never sags but always stays taut—even when stretched to many times its original length. This is because any loose thread is immediately spooled inside the tiny droplets of watery glue that coat and surround the core gossamer fibres of the web’s capture spiral.

This phenomenon is described* in the journal PNAS by scientists from the University of Oxford, UK and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France.

The researchers studied the details of this ‘liquid wire’ technique in spiders’ webs and used it to create composite fibres in the laboratory which, just like the spider’s capture silk, extend like a solid and compress like a liquid. These novel insights may lead to new bio-inspired technology.

Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University said: ‘The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider’s orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly. Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs in our gardens.’


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The novel properties observed and analysed by the scientists rely on a subtle balance between fibre elasticity and droplet surface tension. Importantly, the team was also able to recreate this technique in the laboratory using oil droplets on a plastic filament. And this artificial system behaved just like the spider’s natural winch silk, with spools of filament reeling and unreeling inside the oil droplets as the thread extended and contracted.

Dr Hervé Elettro, the first author and a doctoral researcher at Institut Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, said: ‘Spider silk has been known to be an extraordinary material for around 40 years, but it continues to amaze us. While the web is simply a high-tech trap from the spider’s point of view, its properties have a huge amount to offer the worlds of materials, engineering and medicine.

‘Our bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from virtually any components. These new insights could lead to a wide range of applications, such as microfabrication of complex structures, reversible micro-motors, or self-tensioned stretchable systems.’

*Science paper: In-drop capillary spooling of spider capture thread inspires hybrid fibers with mixed solid–liquid mechanical properties, PNAS

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Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

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From Science Alert: “Scientists have just discovered a new state of matter – This is Big”

ScienceAlert

Science Alert

5 APR 2016
FIONA MACDONALD

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Genevieve Martin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Researchers have just discovered evidence of a mysterious new state of matter in a real material. The state is known as ‘quantum spin liquid’ and it causes electrons – one of the fundamental, indivisible building blocks of matter – to break down into smaller quasiparticles.

Scientists had first predicted the existence of this state of matter in certain magnetic materials 40 years ago, but despite multiple hints of its existence, they’ve never been able to detect evidence of it in nature. So it’s pretty exciting that they’ve now caught a glimpse of quantum spin liquid, and the bizarre fermions that accompany it, in a two-dimensional, graphene-like material.

“This is a new quantum state of matter, which has been predicted but hasn’t been seen before,” said one of the researchers, Johannes Knolle, from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

They were able to spot evidence of quantum spin liquid in the material by observing one of its most intriguing properties – electron fractionalisation – and the resulting Majorana fermions, which occur when electrons in a quantum spin state split apart. These Majorana fermions are exciting because they could be used as building blocks of quantum computers.

To be clear, the electrons aren’t actually splitting down into smaller physical particles – which of course would be an even bigger deal (that would mean brand new particles!). What’s happening instead is the new state of matter is breaking electrons down into quasiparticles. These aren’t actually real particles, but are concepts used by physicists to explain and calculate the strange behaviour of particles.

And the quantum spin liquid state is definitely making electrons act weirdly – in a typical magnetic material, electrons behave like tiny bar magnets. So when the material is cooled to a low enough temperature, these magnet-like electrons order themselves over long ranges, so that all the north magnetic poles point in the same direction.

But in a material containing a quantum spin liquid state, even if a magnetic material is cooled to absolute zero, the electrons don’t align, but instead form an entangled soup caused by quantum fluctuations.

“Until recently, we didn’t even know what the experimental fingerprints of a quantum spin liquid would look like,” said one of the researchers, Dmitry Kovrizhin. “One thing we’ve done in previous work is to ask, if I were performing experiments on a possible quantum spin liquid, what would I observe?”

To figure out what was going on, the researchers worked alongside a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and used neutron scattering techniques to look for evidence of electron fractionalisation in alpha-ruthenium chloride – a material that’s structurally similar to graphene.

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ORNL

This also allowed them to measure the signatures of Majorana fermions for the first time by illuminating the material with neutrons, and then observing the pattern of ripples that the neutrons produced when scattered from the sample.

These patterns were exactly what they’d expect to see based on the main theoretical model of quantum spin liquid, confirming for the first time that they’d seen evidence of it happening in a material.

“This is a new addition to a short list of known quantum states of matter,” said Knolle.

“It’s an important step for our understanding of quantum matter,” added Kovrizhin. “It’s fun to have another new quantum state that we’ve never seen before – it presents us with new possibilities to try new things.”

Some of those new things involve quantum computers – which would be exponentially faster than regular computers – so even though all of this sounds pretty theoretical, they could actually have some really exciting potential applications.

The results have been published in Nature Materials.

Proximate Kitaev quantum spin liquid behaviour in a honeycomb magnet

The science team:
A. Banerjee, C. A. Bridges, J.-Q. Yan, A. A. Aczel, L. Li, M. B. Stone, G. E. Granroth, M. D. Lumsden, Y. Yiu, J. Knolle, S. Bhattacharjee, D. L. Kovrizhin, R. Moessner, D. A. Tennant, D. G. Mandrus & S. E. Nagler

Affiliations:

Quantum Condensed Matter Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, USA
A. Banerjee, A. A. Aczel, M. B. Stone, G. E. Granroth, M. D. Lumsden & S. E. Nagler
Chemical Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, USA
C. A. Bridges
Material Sciences and Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, USA
J.-Q. Yan & D. G. Mandrus
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA
J.-Q. Yan & D. G. Mandrus
Department of Physics, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA
L. Li & Y. Yiu
Neutron Data Analysis & Visualization Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, USA
G. E. Granroth
Department of Physics, Cavendish Laboratory, J.J. Thomson Avenue, Cambridge CB3 0HE, UK
J. Knolle & D. L. Kovrizhin
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, D-01187 Dresden, Germany
S. Bhattacharjee & R. Moessner
International Center for Theoretical Sciences, TIFR, Bangalore 560012, India
S. Bhattacharjee
Neutron Sciences Directorate, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, USA
D. A. Tennant
Bredesen Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37966, USA
S. E. Nagler

Contributions

S.E.N., A.B. and D.G.M. conceived the project and the experiment. C.A.B., A.B., L.L., J.-Q.Y., Y.Y. and D.G.M. made the sample. J.-Q.Y., L.L., A.B. and C.A.B. performed the bulk measurements, A.B., A.A.A., M.B.S., G.E.G., M.D.L. and S.E.N. performed INS measurements, A.B., S.E.N., C.A.B., M.D.L., M.B.S. and D.A.T. analysed the data. Further modelling and interpreting of the neutron scattering data was carried out by A.B., M.D.L., S.E.N., J.K., S.B., D.L.K. and R.M., where A.B., M.D.L., S.B. and S.E.N. performed SWT simulations, and J.K., S.B., D.L.K. and R.M. carried out QSL theory calculations. A.B. and S.E.N. prepared the first draft, and all authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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From LLNL: “NIF experiments shed light on turbulent mix”


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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NIF

LLNL NIF target on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) target positioner
Cryogenics operator John Cagle mounts a target on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) target positioner for an experiment. An area backlighter disc is seen on-edge on the right of the assembly. The front of the target is covered with a gold shield with a diagnostic slit.

Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are leading an experimental campaign on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) designed to further understand turbulent mix models used in both high energy density (HED) and inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments. NIF is the only facility with the energy and shot-to-shot reproducibility needed for the experiments.

During shots using what’s known as the “shock/shear” platform, NIF fires 300 kilojoules of laser energy at each end of a target comprised of two half-hohlraums to produce shock waves from opposite ends of a foam-filled shock tube. These waves turn the foam into plasma and allow the shocks to travel and create a counter-propagating shear mixing effect across a metal foil.

The target has evolved over time — different experiments have used titanium, copper, aluminum and roughened aluminum, and more materials are to come — but they all have one thing in common: each experiment enhances understanding of turbulent mix models in the HED regime. These models, developed and calibrated by LANL using hydrodynamic test data from the 1980s through the present, are now being examined through the lens of the shock/shear HED experiments to see how the data matches up to more extreme conditions.

“We have created a system that reproduces instability features similar to those of traditional hydro experiments that have not previously been seen in HED experiments,” said LANL scientist Kirk Flippo, the lead experimental investigator. “This kind of experiment is rapidly evolving our understanding and we’ve discovered a lot of behaviors that we didn’t expect.”

This enhanced understanding and refined data is vital for ICF. According to Flippo, it has become increasingly clear that ICF capsules experience some kind of mix as they are imploding.

“Some of the outstanding issues in ICF are how does the capsule mix, how does this play into the degradation of the yield and how does it affect ignition,” he said. “It’s important for us to make sure that when we run a code to model an ICF implosion, we get all of the details correct. These experiments will help us quantify precisely how much of an effect this type of shear mixing has.”

Shock/shear experiments initially were fielded on the OMEGA Laser at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, but due to the limited volume that could be driven, the experiments experienced boundary effects. The LANL project manager, scientist John Kline, believed the platform was mature enough to be deployed on NIF and pushed hard for its implementation. Kline knew that by scaling the experiments up to NIF energies, the researchers would be able to take advantage of larger volumes to eliminate the edge effects and do the experiments they wanted to do.

“We cannot do experiments in this way anywhere but at NIF,” Flippo said. “In the regimes that we are in at NIF, the experiment behaves much more like a traditional hydro experiment and scales like a hydro experiment would scale.”

Data from the NIF experiments already has been used by the campaign’s principal investigator, LANL scientist Forrest Doss, to refine the way the model is implemented in the code — producing a direct, immediate impact. But the work isn’t complete just yet.

“Now that this platform is available, and has been shown to produce really nice data, we can start modifying it by changing the shock velocities, changing the materials or foams and using different shocks,” Flippo said. “This platform has infinite variation and infinite complexity.”

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From MIT: “Switchable material could enable new memory chips”


MIT News

January 20, 2016
David L. Chandler | MIT News Office

Temp 1
This diagram shows how an electrical voltage can be used to modify the oxygen concentration, and therefore the phase and structure, of strontium cobaltites. Pumping oxygen in and out transforms the material from the brownmillerite form (left) to the perovskite form (right).
Courtesy of the researchers

Small voltage can flip thin film between two crystal states — one metallic, one semiconducting.

Two MIT researchers have developed a thin-film material whose phase and electrical properties can be switched between metallic and semiconducting simply by applying a small voltage. The material then stays in its new configuration until switched back by another voltage. The discovery could pave the way for a new kind of “nonvolatile” computer memory chip that retains information when the power is switched off, and for energy conversion and catalytic applications.

The findings, reported in the journal Nano Letters in a paper by MIT materials science graduate student Qiyang Lu and associate professor Bilge Yildiz, involve a thin-film material called a strontium cobaltite, or SrCoOx.

Usually, Yildiz says, the structural phase of a material is controlled by its composition, temperature, and pressure. “Here for the first time,” she says, “we demonstrate that electrical bias can induce a phase transition in the material. And in fact we achieved this by changing the oxygen content in SrCoOx.”

“It has two different structures that depend on how many oxygen atoms per unit cell it contains, and these two structures have quite different properties,” Lu explains.

One of these configurations of the molecular structure is called perovskite, and the other is called brownmillerite. When more oxygen is present, it forms the tightly-enclosed, cage-like crystal structure of perovskite, whereas a lower concentration of oxygen produces the more open structure of brownmillerite.

The two forms have very different chemical, electrical, magnetic, and physical properties, and Lu and Yildiz found that the material can be flipped between the two forms with the application of a very tiny amount of voltage — just 30 millivolts (0.03 volts). And, once changed, the new configuration remains stable until it is flipped back by a second application of voltage.

Strontium cobaltites are just one example of a class of materials known as transition metal oxides, which is considered promising for a variety of applications including electrodes in fuel cells, membranes that allow oxygen to pass through for gas separation, and electronic devices such as memristors — a form of nonvolatile, ultrafast, and energy-efficient memory device. The ability to trigger such a phase change through the use of just a tiny voltage could open up many uses for these materials, the researchers say.

Previous work with strontium cobaltites relied on changes in the oxygen concentration in the surrounding gas atmosphere to control which of the two forms the material would take, but that is inherently a much slower and more difficult process to control, Lu says. “So our idea was, don’t change the atmosphere, just apply a voltage.”

“Voltage modifies the effective oxygen pressure that the material faces,” Yildiz adds. To make that possible, the researchers deposited a very thin film of the material (the brownmillerite phase) onto a substrate, for which they used yttrium-stabilized zirconia.

In that setup, applying a voltage drives oxygen atoms into the material. Applying the opposite voltage has the reverse effect. To observe and demonstrate that the material did indeed go through this phase transition when the voltage was applied, the team used a technique called in-situ X-ray diffraction at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering.

The basic principle of switching this material between the two phases by altering the gas pressure and temperature in the environment was developed within the last year by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “While interesting, this is not a practical means for controlling device properties in use,” says Yildiz. With their current work, the MIT researchers have enabled the control of the phase and electrical properties of this class of materials in a practical way, by applying an electrical charge.

In addition to memory devices, the material could ultimately find applications in fuel cells and electrodes for lithium ion batteries, Lu says.

“Our work has fundamental contributions by introducing electrical bias as a way to control the phase of an active material, and by laying the basic scientific groundwork for such novel energy and information processing devices,” Yildiz adds.

In ongoing research, the team is working to better understand the electronic properties of the material in its different structures, and to extend this approach to other oxides of interest for memory and energy applications, in collaboration with MIT professor Harry Tuller.

José Santiso, the nanomaterials growth division leader at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Barcelona, Spain, who was not involved in this research, calls it “a very significant contribution” to the study of this interesting class of materials, and says “it paves the way for the application of these materials both in solid state electrochemical devices for the efficient conversion of energy or oxygen storage, as well as in possible applications in a new kind of memory devices.”

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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From MIT Tech Review: “Promising New Solar Material Boosts Performance of Silicon”

MIT Technology Review
M.I.T Technology Review

January 7, 2016
Mike Orcutt

Silicon probably won’t be replaced as the dominant solar material anytime soon, but it might not be too long before it gets a partner from a promising class of materials called perovskites.

A group led by Henry Snaith, a physicist at the University of Oxford and leading perovskite researcher, has demonstrated what it says is a viable pathway to a device that combines a conventional silicon cell with a perovskite cell to boost the efficiency of that silicon cell by several percentage points.

Perovskites, which have captured the interest of solar researchers and energy policy experts because of their rapidly improving performance and low cost, are distinguished by a chemical structure that gives rise to unique electronic properties that make them attractive for solar technology (see “Could a New Solar Material Outperform Silicon?”). Snaith and his colleagues say the new composition they’ve developed overcomes a fundamental obstacle to designing a highly efficient device that combines the light-absorbing characteristics of silicon with those of a perovskite material.

The researchers say the result suggests it should be possible to make a silicon-perovskite “tandem” device that is more than 25 percent efficient, higher than the performance of today’s commercially available silicon cells, which are about 17 to 20 percent efficient. The measurements they took were in a laboratory environment, but the approach could eventually be used to achieve significantly higher efficiencies than the best silicon panels on the market today.

High-performance tandem devices made of semiconductors other than perovskite have already achieved efficiencies in the lab of over 40 percent, but they are extremely expensive because they require very technically complex manufacturing processes. Making perovskite solar cells is much simpler and cheaper, and the process could be integrated into existing silicon panel manufacturing lines by adding a few steps. Many experts believe the most realistic near-term commercial application of perovskites will be a tandem device with silicon.

Several groups have demonstrated working tandem devices made of a silicon cell and a perovskite cell, but the efficiencies have been limited because the range of the solar spectrum the perovskite absorbed did not fully complement the range that silicon absorbs. Attempts to tweak the range of light the perovskite absorbs led to instabilities within the material’s structure that compromised performance. Snaith and his colleagues came up with a method, which relies on substituting certain ions in the material with cesium ions, to achieve the desired photovoltaic properties while maintaining the material’s structural stability.

The researchers have only demonstrated the new composition at a small scale, and a lot of work would be needed before we might see it in commercially available panels. But a company Snaith cofounded, Oxford PV, is also focused on developing silicon-perovskite tandem devices.

Chris Case, chief technology officer of Oxford PV, says results like this reflect how quickly researchers are addressing the inherent challenges to making reliable, high-performing tandem cells. Case won’t reveal the specifics of his company’s technology, but says Oxford PV is close to demonstrating full-size devices that are 23 percent efficient and could hit 25 percent shortly thereafter. Case says it’s not unrealistic to think 28 or even 30 percent efficiency is possible within just a few years.

Perovskite-based technologies still face challenges due to the material’s sensitivity to moisture and air, and questions remain about whether perovskite cells can be made durable enough to survive the long lifetimes required of power systems. Still, Case says Oxford PV is on track to deliver a commercial product—aimed at silicon panel manufacturers who want to “upgrade” the efficiency of their products—in 2017.

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From UCLA: “UCLA researchers create exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal”

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UCLA

December 23, 2015
Matthew Chin

Temp 1
At left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across.

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals. The research was published today in Nature.

“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.”

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Xiaochun Li

Structural metals are load-bearing metals; they are used in buildings and vehicles. Magnesium, at just two-thirds the density of aluminum, is the lightest structural metal. Silicon carbide is an ultra-hard ceramic commonly used in industrial cutting blades. The researchers’ technique of infusing a large number of silicon carbide particles smaller than 100 nanometers into magnesium added significant strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

The researchers’ new silicon carbide-infused magnesium demonstrated record levels of specific strength — how much weight a material can withstand before breaking — and specific modulus — the material’s stiffness-to-weight ratio. It also showed superior stability at high temperatures.

Ceramic particles have long been considered as a potential way to make metals stronger. However, with microscale ceramic particles, the infusion process results in a loss of plasticity.

Nanoscale particles, by contrast, can enhance strength while maintaining or even improving metals’ plasticity. But nanoscale ceramic particles tend to clump together rather than dispersing evenly, due to the tendency of small particles to attract one other.

To counteract this issue, researchers dispersed the particles into a molten magnesium zinc alloy. The newly discovered nanoparticle dispersion relies on the kinetic energy in the particles’ movement. This stabilizes the particles’ dispersion and prevents clumping.

To further enhance the new metal’s strength, the researchers used a technique called high-pressure torsion to compress it.

“The results we obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities,” Li said.

The new metal (more accurately called a metal nanocomposite) is about 14 percent silicon carbide nanoparticles and 86 percent magnesium. The researchers noted that magnesium is an abundant resource and that scaling up its use would not cause environmental damage.

The paper’s lead author is Lian-Yi Chen, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar in Li’s Scifacturing Laboratory at UCLA. Chen is now an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The paper’s other authors from UCLA include Jia-Quan Xu, a graduate student in materials science and engineering; Marta Pozuelo, an assistant development engineer; and Jenn-Ming Yang, professor of materials science and engineering.

The other authors on the paper are Hongseok Choi, of Clemson University; Xiaolong Ma, of North Carolina State University; Sanjit Bhowmick of Hysitron, Inc. of Minneapolis; and Suveen Mathaudhu of UC Riverside.

The research was funded in part by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

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