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Super strong, lightweight metal could build tomorrow's spacecraft

"Our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals," said engineer Xiaochun Li.
By Brooks Hays   |   Dec. 24, 2015 at 10:27 AM

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- A new metal, a combination of magnesium and ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles, is promising to change how airplanes, spacecraft and cars are manufactured.

Its inventors, materials scientists at UCLA, say the metal is super strong, but most importantly, lightweight. The metal's stiffness-to-weight ratio is what sets it apart from similar inventions.

Researchers say the metal may be just the first of many groundbreaking manufacturing materials. That's because they've invented a new technique for infusing metals without nanoparticles without hurting the metal's structural integrity.

"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," researcher Xiaochun Li, a professor of manufacturing and engineering at UCLA, said in a press release.

"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."

After processing, researchers tested the magnesium, newly infused with a dense, even spread of nanoparticles. The new material showed improved strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

Previous research showed ceramic nanoparticles have a tendency to clump together when added to metals, making them stronger but weakening their plasticity. Researchers solved this problem by dispersing the nanoparticles in a molten magnesium zinc alloy.

Because magnesium is relatively abundant and the production technology can be easily scaled up, scientists hope the metal's industrial applications will be quickly realized. And scientists don't think it will be long before they've found a new metal-nanoparticle combination with impressive potential.

"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 nanocomposite is detailed in the jouranl Nature.

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