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Scientists find new tool to make GenNext materials

Kalyan Ray New Delhi, Nov 19, 2012, DHNS 0:33 IST

Discovery can help to examine materials at crystal level

(From left) Rajesh Ganapathy, K Hima Nagamanasa and  A K Sood. Inset: Shreyas Gokhale.
Scientists have developed a new probing tool to study material properties in micro level, which may lead to creation of super-steel or new age copper for a variety of unforeseen applications in the future.

The new tool may lead to important industrial applications by influencing material fabrication strategies. A set of new processing technologies may emerge, thanks to the probe that allows scientists to examine materials at tiny crystal level for steel or copper.

The discovery – made by a team comprising researchers from the Indian Institute of Science and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research – has been reported in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

“It has significance in material science as it allows playing with the size of a grain in industrial materials such as steel or copper or aluminium. This will improve what is known as grain-boundary engineering,” Ajay Sood, professor of physics at IISc and one of the scientists involved with the research told Deccan Herald.

Steel, copper or aluminium are composed of “poly-crystals”, which are tiny grains of these materials separated by internal boundaries known as grain boundary engineering. From the copper wires that bring electricity to homes to steel-made aircraft, poly-crystals are present everywhere.

Whatever be the application, be it a drilling head or a spool of wire, grain size of poly-crystals is one of the key factors that decides their mechanical, electrical and thermal properties, which in turn will have engineering application. Grain boundary has become a hot area of research.

A better understanding of material at individual grain level and subsequent engineering may lead to creation of advanced materials like super steel for fighter planes or high grade turbine blades, explained Rajesh Ganapthy, a scientist from JNCASR who is also a part of the research group. Even traditional blacksmiths and modern day steel rolling mills do such engineering but without understanding the mechanism.

A blacksmith takes a block of soft iron and shapes it into a hard cutting instrument by repeatedly subjecting the metal to heating-cooling cycles and mechanical stresses by hammering. This on a much larger scale and in a more controlled fashion is routinely done in industries. Both are grain boundary engineering even though little is known about it when these processed were developed and perfected.

While well-established materials engineering protocols are sufficient for conventional applications, further enhancement in the properties of materials is bound to involve developing new fabrication strategies which in turn requires in-depth understanding of grain boundary motion and grain growth when materials are subjected to external stresses, said Ganapathy.

“What we learn is a tip of the iceberg. We can investigate new phenomenon,” he said.

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