UCLA Research team develops super-strong metal using magnesium and silicon carbide

A super strong metal with high stiffness to weight ratio has been developed by University of California, Los Angeles researchers by using silicon carbide nanoparticles with magnesium. The light-weight metal created by the project team can be used in many industries due to its low cost commercial viability and high strength. By infusing silicon carbide nanoparticles with magnesium, the research team has been able to develop a metal that is far superior and lighter compared to aluminum or titanium.

Due to its light weight, the new metal can be used in aviation, automobiles, manufacturing and real estate. Structural metals are load-bearing metals and the metal created by UCLA team showcases amazing properties and strength.

The research team infused silicon carbide nanoparticles into molten magnesium zinc alloy, thus forming a metal which has high strength but remains light weight. Silicon carbide is a hard ceramic material used in cutting blades. The metal doesn’t change its properties even at high temperature, another positive for its usage in various industries. As magnesium is abundantly available, the commercial scale manufacturing of the metal will be possible, claims the research team from UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In the current project, the research team used nanoparticles, instead of micro-particles. Nanoparticles are just 1 to 100 nanometer in size or a billionth of a meter. The metal contains 86 percent magnesium and 14 percent silicon carbide. The research team has not indicated the cost of manufacturing the metal on a commercial scale.

A Gizmodo report informed, “In a series of tests, the researchers have shown that, compared to materials with a similar density, it demonstrates ‘record levels’ of stiffness-to-weight ratio and strength-to-weight ratio. The team behind the new material reckons it could be used in aerospace applications, where high strength and light weight are qualities of choice.”

The research team used high-pressure torsion technique to compress the metal to improve its strength even further. The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA said, “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.”

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.

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.

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