Los Angeles, California – A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, developed a new metal that is extremely strong and light. The scientists created the new material with magnesium, and affirmed in a UCLA press release it could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft and cars.

Microscopic pictures of the metal that is made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles, would appear to show each micropillar is about 4 micrometers across, which means it is very compacted and strong in comparison with a deformed sample of pure metal.

The image shows a deformed sample of pure metal (left); and the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles (right). Credit: UCLA

Researchers explained the metal is super strong, but in comparison with other metals that are similar in strength, this has a light structure. The material is composed of magnesium infused with ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles.

It seems impressive that the team could develop the new metal with magnesium, which is the second most abundant element inside human cells and the fourth most abundant positively charged ion in the human body, as Ancient Minerals explained.

The findings published in the journal Nature also remarked that magnesium is a light metal that is abundant on Earth and is biocompatible. Researchers explained it has the potential to enhance energy efficiency and system performance in aerospace, automobile, defense, mobile electronics and biomedical applications.

“An enhancement of strength, stiffness, plasticity and high-temperature stability is simultaneously achieved, delivering a higher specific yield strength and higher specific modulus than almost all structural metals,” scientists said.

The development of the new extremely strong metal could be possible because researchers found a way to stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals, which seems to be a new procedure in the field of science. Also, they developed a method for manufacturing that permits the production of more high-performance lightweight metals.

“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. 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,” Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA, wrote in the study that was published online in December 23 in the journal Nature.

According to a UCLA press release, silicon carbide, which was infused to the metal, is an ultra-hard ceramic that is usually used in industrial cutting blades. The material added superior stability at high temperatures to the metal while maintaining its plasticity. The new metal, called metal nanocomposite, is composed by about 14 percent of silicon carbide nanoparticles and 86 percent of magnesium.

Xiaochun Li, who led the study as a postdoctoral scholar in Li’s Scifacturing Laboratory at UCLA, wrote that the results the team obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities and it would not be a threat to the environment because magnesium can be found easily on Earth.

Metals of the future

Thousands of scientists from around the world are developing new materials that are sustainable and more efficient than classic metals. An impressive example is the new hydrophobic metal announced earlier in the year by scientists at the University of Rochester, which can repel water in an impressive way.

Chunlei Guo, professor of optics at Rochester, wrote the material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off. Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface.

The team used lasers to etch a nanostructure on the metal instead of using the common method of applying chemical coatings. As an advantage, the hydrophobic coverage would not wear off. Scientists explained it could be used for the construction of airplanes surfaces to avoid water freezing of the fuselage, and it also could be useful for the design of a water collection system to save water in underdeveloped countries where water is not abundant.

Source: Nature Journal