Super Strong and Lightweight Metal May Build the Spacecraft of the Future

First Posted: Dec 24, 2015 08:48 AM EST

Scientists have created an exceptionally strong yet still light-weight material that could be a huge boon in the future. The material is a metal that's composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles, and could be used to create lighter spacecraft and aircraft.

"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, one of the researchers, in a news release. "With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metal by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today's society.

The researchers created the super-strong but lightweight metal by finding 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.
Structural metals are load-bearing metals; they're used in buildings and vehicles. Magnesium is the lightest structural metal. Silicon carbide is an ultra-hard ceramic usually used in industrial cutting blades. In this study, the researchers infused a large number of silicon carbide particles into magnesium to add strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

The findings could be huge when it comes to designing aircraft and even cars. It could improve fuel efficiency and also give these vehicles an edge when it comes to speed.

"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," said Li.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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