Nanoparticles used to create ‘super strong’ magnesium

Left, a deformed sample of pure metal. Right, the metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4µm across
A ‘super strong’ yet light structural metal with an extremely high specific strength and modulus has been developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The metal – a metal nanocomposite comprising about 14% silicon carbide nanoparticles and 86% magnesium by volume – could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilise nanoparticles in molten metals. The researchers say they have also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals.

While ceramic particles have been seen as a way to make metals stronger, the infusion process results in a loss of plasticity. Nanoscale particles, however, can enhance strength while maintaining or even improving plasticity. But they tend to clump together, rather than dispersing evenly.

Infusing silicon carbide particles measuring less than 100nm in diameter into magnesium was said to have added significant strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures. According to the team, the material demonstrated record levels of specific strength and specific modulus, along with stability at high temperatures.

To address this issue, researchers dispersed the particles into a molten magnesium zinc alloy, stabilising the dispersion and preventing clumping. Strength was enhanced by compressing the material using high pressure torsion.

Xiaochun Li, Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA, said: “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.”

Graham Pitcher

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