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Cover of the Spring 2010 issue




Casting industry goes nano

A magnesium nanocomposite cast sample

A magnesium nanocomposite cast sample view larger image

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has awarded a $10.1 million, five-year grant to a team led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Xiaochun Li. The researchers are studying a process that could yield new technologies for commercial-scale production of aluminum and magnesium matrix nanocomposites in the traditional casting industry within the next five years.

“If successful, the production of these metal nanocomposites will enable transformative changes in multiple industries and directly address the critical national needs of reducing oil dependency, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and maintaining U.S. leadership in manufacturing,” says Li.

Most molten metals have a large surface-to-volume ratio and are unable to maintain contact with the solid nanoparticle surfaces, meaning the nanoparticles clump together. Li’s lab has developed an experimental technique that uses high-intensity ultrasonic waves to disperse the nanoparticles through the melts. The waves cause the formation, growth and collapse of microbubbles, which produce microscopic “hot spots” that reach temperatures above 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Li and his team have shown that the violent micro-shock waves from the hot spots disperse nano-particles evenly through the molten metals.

Xiaochun  Li

Xiaochun Li view larger image

Li’s collaborators include Kuo K. and Cindy F. Wang Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tim Osswald, Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Shiyu Zhou, Eck Industries Inc., the Oshkosh Corporation, Nanostructured and Amorphous Materials Inc. and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

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