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Binghamton University leverages oxidation in 3D printing

“You can’t avoid oxidation, so we are trying to take advantage of it by turning it into a new, reinforcing mechanism to make the material stronger.”

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According to Binghamton University, Professor Changhong Ke, a faculty member at Watson College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has received a $150,000 grant through the National Science Foundation’s Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program to investigate the potential of building nanotubes into additively manufactured metals, particularly aluminum.

Ke believes that microscopic structures made of boron nitride – a compound commonly used in cosmetics, pencil lead, and cement for dental applications – would make the material self-strengthening under corrosive conditions like moisture and seawater.

“You can’t avoid oxidation, so we are trying to take advantage of it by turning it into a new, reinforcing mechanism to make the material stronger,” said Changhong Ke. “That would be something really amazing. People could try to design the materials to include these sorts of porosities or even purposely introducing structures that can be more easily oxidized because it becomes something beneficial instead of harmful to the material itself.”

The nanotubes threaded throughout the metal are a few nanometers thick, and a few to hundreds of microns long. To see how the oxidation changes the way that nanotubes bind to metal – a core issue in the self-strengthening mechanism – Ke and his team in the Nanomechanics Laboratory at the Binghamton University will use a force sensor to pull individual nanotubes out of the oxidized metal inside a high-resolution scanning electron microscope, which allows them to watch what is happening in real-time. “We designed this as a sandwich structure,” he said. “It’s like a hot dog, with the nanotube as the meat and the metal as the bread.”

The researchers will also test the material on a macro scale – looking at load transfer to learn more about how oxidation affects the stiffness, strength, and toughness of the nanotube-reinforced metal. Collaborators from the University of Illinois will confirm Ke’s experimental findings through computational modeling.

“We’re hoping this will provide a new perspective to the scientific community about how we view metal oxidation in terms of future material design,” said Ke. “That could change the research landscape for these metal materials, particularly for 3D printed metal. It has so many promising applications in different areas, and it even could revitalize US manufacturing competitiveness.”

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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