Monday | 11 February, 2013 | 10:52 am

Metal’s metamorphosis

By Gretchen Salois

Researchers continue to uncover metal properties and capabilities

February 2013 - Metallurgists have been trying to make the grains of metals smaller,  which will make them stronger without affecting other properties or making them difficult to machine. Christopher Schuh Ph.D, Head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, says researchers are uncovering how to increase metal strength without compromising other factors.

“If you get the grains small, you get high strength, but if the grains get nanoscale enough, you get new types of physics, comprising not only the properties of the metal grains but the interfaces between them, resulting in new nanophysics,” Schuh says. “Recent research offers new opportunities to deliver new combinations of properties.”

The interest in this field is long-standing. “Ten years ago, there were a lot of people doing what I call proof of concept work, working with metals with really fine nanoscale grains in them,” he explains. “Very little of what was produced was stable. People could make a nanocrystalline metal, but the grain structure would grow and it was no longer nano anymore.” 

Schuh’s team developed new alloying science, making grain structure not transient or fleeting but stable and permanent. By combining tungsten and titanium. “We were looking for a nanocrystalline tungsten that would be stable at high temperatures, heating it to 1,100 degrees Celsius,” Schuh explains. “We want to retain the nanoscale structure at these very high temperatures. We found that what we could add to tungsten should bring the desired result. Knowing how long trial-and-error would take, we used theory to identify a combination that we felt might work.”

From research to reality

The implications for the metals industry are great. Schuh’s team tried to develop a tungsten-based alloy that is heavy and strong. “You can apply this concept to many different metals; we’re systematically using our thermodynamic approach to find other interesting options,” he says.

According to an article by Julia R. Weertman, a professor at Northwestern University, “Retaining the Nano in Nanocrystalline Alloys,” available at , further research needs to be done to produce a nanocrystalline alloy that is “thermodynamically stable, not just metastable, and considerable effort has gone into achieving this goal.”

This latest research is one segment in a long line of information, much of which already is used in today’s metals industry. “Some of the things we’ve done at MIT are already in use in billions of components like coatings—the metals industry has already incorporated some of these things and those products are already out there in the market,” Schuh says. 

During a time when companies are working toward lightweighting everything from cars and trucks to airplanes, Schuh says his team has made developments in lightweighting aluminum alloys, currently being explored by companies but not necessarily made available yet to the public. “Developments have extended beyond the MIT research and development umbrella to corporations elsewhere,” Schuh says.  

There are thousands of metallurgists researching the many facets of different metals bringing, “not only new alloys but a new way of thinking about these alloys,” Schuh says. “It’s a new way of thinking about how to design an alloy so the next generation products can cash in on some new physics we maybe weren’t thinking of before.”

There currently are many different projects “all on parallel trajectories,” says Schuh. “We’re developing entire new families of new materials, and we have more work coming out in tungsten.

“To be honest, we’re at the beginning of exploring this concept and there are hundreds more design projects to be had in the space,” he continues. “This is a long-range project where we’re trying to rethink metals design. We want to improve the performance of the metals and allow those in the metals industry to rethink the properties of their own particular metal—research continues and new combinations are in the works.” MM


vert-current-linewhiteAPRIL 2015


- Safety
- Toll Processing
- Inventory
- Investment Banking




Modern Metals on Twitter


Industry Partners

Alloy Bar Products

Executive Search Services

Sawing Technology

Stainless, Nickel, Aluminum, Pipe, Tube & Bar

Sierra Alloys Leadership Search Group Advanced Machine & Engineering Prudential Stainless & Alloys, L.P.


Investment Banking

Amada Machine Tools America, Inc.


Channel Alloys Brown Gibbons Lang & Company Cosen Saws Central Steel Service, Inc.
Kaiser Aluminum

Laser Cutting Machines

HE&M Saw Pacesetter Steel Service, Inc.
Sapa Extrusions North America Trumpf Hydmech Parker Steel Co.


Laser Technology

Klingelhofer Corporation Steel Dynamics
Gerdau Special Steel North America Amada America, Inc. Lenox Summit Steel Corporation

CNC Cutting (Plasma, Waterjet, Laser, Router)

LVD Strippit Marvel Manufacturing

Steel Service Center

Multicam Inc. Mazak Optonics Corp. Samuel, Son & Co., Limited

CNC Machinery

Mitsubishi Laser-MC Machinery Systems, Inc.

Service Centers

Thickness Gauges

Voortman Corporation Vytek Admiral Steel Advanced Gauging Technologies

Coated Coil

Material Handling

North American Steel Alliance


Centria Coating Services Combilift USA Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company TSI Titanium
Metal Coaters Samuel Strapping Systems United Performance Metals


Coil Processing

Steel Storage Systems Inc.


Carlson Tool & Manufacturing Corp.
Alcos Machinery Inc. The Caldwell Group, Inc. Compusource Corporation

Tube & Pipe

ANDRITZ Herr-Voss Stamco Inc.

Perforated & Expanded Metal

Enmark Systems, Inc. Independence Tube Corp.
Bradbury Group McNichols Co.

Stainless Steel

Tube Mill Equipment & Machinery

Braner USA


Rolled Alloys ASMAG USA, Inc.
Butech Bliss Allor Manufacturing Inc. Scan Tube/Nebetco Stainless


Delta Steel Technologies Churchill Steel Plate Ltd Stainless Sales Corporation Koike Aronson
Red Bud Industries Ranger Steel Venus Stainless NA

Welding & Cutting

Copper & Brass

Portable Analytical Instruments

Stainless Steel Service Center

American Torch Tip
Christy Metals Inc. Thermo Scientific Portable Analytical Instruments Comprinox


Farmer's Copper




National Bronze & Metals





twitter facebook linkedin rss