Modified molecular structures allowed scientists to come up with a new type of ceramic that can fly in the face of very high temperatures without breaking apart.

This new type of ceramic may soon be used in structuring power plants and building spacecraft.

A team of researchers from the University of Texas Arlington, led by Ashfaq Adnan, assistant professor at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, was given $120,000 by the National Science Foundation (NSF), as an Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER).

The research is titled EAGER: Building Strong and Tough Multiphase Ceramics via Interface Tailoring.

Basically, interface tailoring is the mixing of ceramics of the same family. In their study, Adnan's team blended ceramics that belong to the same family, and discovered that this can achieve greater strength.

"This research will yield a new generation of ceramics that can withstand both extreme heat and collision," said Adnan.

Metals are currently widely used in certain engineering structures, like spacecraft. Adnan said that metals are very resilient, but may melt when exposed to extremely high temperatures. Ceramics, on the other hand, are very strong, but also very brittle. As in a ceramic mug or plate, it shatters when dropped.

According to the researchers, structural materials require two important properties - strength and toughness. Most of the time, however, a material is only either one of the two. Stronger materials carry greater loads before falling, while tougher materials deform to a greater extent, but do not break. When the team blended two different phases, they formed a new type of ceramic that has both high strength and toughness.

The Dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering Khosrow Behbehani praised Adnan's work, emphasizing the national recognition of UT Arlington, brought about by the NSF award.

EAGER allows researchers to pursue studies that have very high potential and promise a significant impact in science.

Photo: caleb boller | Flickr

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