New Steel Alloy: Impressive Properties, Limitless Potential

A new material has been developed by a team of engineers from the University of California, San Diego, the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology. This new steel alloy could have a wide range of applications ranging from drill bits, to body armor to meteor-resistant casings for satellites and so much more. What makes this alloy so incredible is its ability to withstand tremendous impacts without permanently deforming.

SAM2X5-630 is the name of this new amorphous steel. What gives it its unique properties is that it is made of arrangements of atoms that deviate from the traditional crystal-like structure of steel, where iron atoms occupy specific locations.  

Amorphous steel has researchers and manufacturers excited, these materials are affordable to manufacture, impressively hard but without becoming brittle. This is the first time research has been done on how amorphous steels respond to sudden shock and the results are extraordinary.

SAM2X5-630 blows any other steel alloy away when it comes to its elastic limit according to the researchers. Additionally, the alloy is able to handle pressures and stresses up to 12.5 giga-Pascals which is equip to 125,000 atmospheres without any permanent deformations. Just for a reference, the Hugoniot Elastic Limit (maximum shock a material can handle without permanent deformation) of a 1.5-1.8 mm-thick piece of SAM2X5-630 was measured at 11.76 ± 1.26 giga-Pascals. Stainless steel has an elastic limit of 0.2 giga-Pascals, tungsten carbide measured at 4.5 giga-Pascals. Diamond, tops the scale at an impressive 60 giga-Pascals but is not practical by any means.

“Because these materials are designed to withstand extreme conditions, you can process them under extreme conditions successfully,” said Olivia Graeve, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who led the design and fabrication effort. http://bit.ly/1RSmF9T

They used spark plasma sintering to manufacture solid materials that are made up of the alloy. Olivia Graeve explained that this process allows the researchers to produce materials in mere minutes that would normally take hours in an industrial setting. The processes created small crystalline regions only a few nanometers in size with hints of structure, which researchers believe to be why the material is able to withstand such impressive amounts of stress. Researchers are excited about the promise this process holds because it can improve the qualities of these types of metallic glasses. Usually, these materials are too brittle for practical manufacturing applications.

SAM2X5-630 shows promise but more research is needed before it will be able to manufactured on a larger scale. It could have a far reaching impact on not only industrial manufacturers but the entire world. It could create impressively durable infrastructure and help protect our brave men and women that serve our country over-seas but the applications don’t stop there. As more research is done, and the manufacturing process is scaled up, it will be interesting to see where and how this material will be used.

Sources:

http://jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=1915

University of California – San Diego. “Recording-breaking steel could be used for body armor, shields for satellites.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160405105603.htm>.

http://www.nature.com/articles/srep22568