Human history is divided into time periods based largely around the types of tools or technology being employed. The Iron Age was characterized by the increased use of iron weapons and tools, edging out the previously used bronze. This iron, however, wasn’t simply iron. It was iron heated with carbon, marking the start of a new era when humans realized that metal alloys could perform better than single metals.
Alloys are the result of mixing two or more metallic elements together with the goal of creating more desirable attributes such as rust or heat resistance. The search for better alloys continues into the present, as scientists chase super alloys for use in a variety of technologies. Seungha Shin, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering, is on the hunt for one such alloy.
“We are studying superalloys, which can have high stress and heat resistance,” he said. “To achieve high-efficiency vehicles or airplanes, we need some lightweight materials. Normally light metals are not that good at high temperatures, so we need to develop some new materials.”
If sufficiently heat- and stress-resistant materials can be developed and used to build engines, vehicles can become more fuel efficient simply by virtue of being lighter. Shin’s team is working to create such an alloy with aluminum, focusing their work on its thermal transport properties.
Shin’s LDRD partner Amit Shyam, research scientist at ORNL, is also studying the effects of microstructures on alloy properties. Shin’s team contributes a much-needed level of expertise in thermal transport properties to their shared goal. Shin hopes to conclude the project with a deeper working relationship with his ORNL partner and enough useful data to secure more funding from external sources.