Putting an End to Thermal Expansion

Engineers and manufacturers all over the world face the same problem when it comes to their materials, when they get hot, they expand. This is a serious issue because materials are constantly heating up and cooling down which can lead to equipment failures and cracks.

Airplanes, buildings, bridges or any kind of digital technology give off, or are exposed to heat constantly throughout their lifetime. This process is known as thermal expansion and continues to a thorn in the side of engineers and manufacturers everywhere.

Now, new research is being conducted by Oxford University scientists focused on heat-related failure and it could put an end to issues related to thermal expansion.

Not every material experiences this phenomena. These materials are known as ‘negative thermal expansion’ or NTE. What makes these materials so special is that instead of expanding when they come in contact with heat, they contract. There are still some issues with NTE’s, scientists are not able to control how much they actually contract and this can create an entirely new issue for engineers. Without having the ability to control how much NTE’s contract, manufacturers and engineers are not able to utilize these materials in order to put an end to equipment failures caused by thermal expansion.

But the research from Oxford could open up a new chapter in material sciences and put an end to this troublesome issue.

Dr Mark Senn from Oxford’s Department of Chemistry lead a group of scientist to develop a new system that will allow them to manipulate a class of materials into expanding or contracting at will. A collaborative effort between scientists from Oxford, Imperial, Diamond Light Source and Korean and US institutions’ came up with some incredible results that could revolutionize how materials behave when they come in contact with heat or cold.

Previously, scientists could not control the rate at which the atoms were vibrating inside a material. The vibrations are ultimately what cause the atoms to move closer together or farther apart. The latest research was aimed at controlling how close the atoms contract and how quickly the process takes place.

Using a perovskite material, Dr Senn and his team have shown that it is possible to manipulate thermal expansion and contraction by changing the concentration of two important elements, strontium and calcium. By changing the concentration of these two elements, it was found that they were the key to unlocking the full potential of NTE. Having the ability to control expansion and contraction will be key in order to improve engineering, manufacturing and the infrastructure around the world.

Dr Senn said this about the impact of their research “This is hugely exciting because we now have a “chemical recipe” for controlling the expansion and contraction of the material when heated. This should prove to have much wider applications.” bit.ly/25OuF4r

Some of the wider applications can include, more reliable manufacturing equipment and machinery, improved electronics and exponentially increasing the life expectancy of infrastructure.

“Researchers are increasingly turning to synchrotrons like Diamond to deepen their understanding of chemical processes and, in similar way to chefs adjusting their recipes to get a better texture or taste, scientists are adjusting the elemental composition of materials, and thereby controlling their properties and functions in ways that will bring performance and safety benefits in a wide range of areas including transport, construction and new technology.” this statement was made by Dr Claire Murray, a support scientist at Diamond Light Source. bit.ly/25OuF4r

These kinds of breakthroughs surrounding material science could have a dramatic impact on the entire manufacturing industry. From the machines they use to the roads they need to deliver their products, the world can be drastically improved from being able to control the expansion and contraction materials experience when exposed to heat.




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