Scientists at California’s UCLA University have created nanoparticle enhanced metals which they say could change the atomic substructure of metals as we know it. But what do these clever sounding words formed to make up sentence actually mean? Lets go back a decade or so. Back to the future.
Nano technology was in its infancy, although lab based experiments had yielded stunning gains with the possibility of creating lighter materials with superior strength actually scaling up these experiments to full scale production has proved difficult.
But nanoparticle based products are in use albeit limited to commercial use such as Acticoat Wound Dressings used in the veterinary industry. Hardly the breakthrough promised after all the talk of nano-robots 30 times smaller than a pin head. But it is a start at least.
UCLA scientist’s claim to have discovered a new method to inject silicon carbide nanoparticles into a molten alloy of magnesium and zinc. The result is a metal with a stiffness-to-weight that offers superior strength and stability.
Magnesium is the lightest of all metals, UCLA’s technique keeps the lightweight but makes it significantly stronger. UCLA also claim they can develop a scaleable manufacturing process that would enable the construction of lighter cars, planes medical devices and electronics.
Silica carbide is already used in the automotive industry for clutch components and carbon ceramic brakes. The technique of injecting silica based nanoparticles into molten metal to increase strength has failed in the past.
If UCLA’s new production technique can be verified and the scaled up into a production ready state then a new class of ultra high strength materials could be created.
Although there are ready supplies of magnesium it is still seen as an exotic material and used in high end industries such as Formula One and aerospace.
Car manufactures always work on a cost per unit volume if it’s too expensive this super-magnesium material will most probably be overlooked. If it ever gets out of the lab and into production.