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Concept: Metallurgy


Inspired by natural muscle, a key challenge in soft robotics is to develop self-contained electrically driven soft actuators with high strain density. Various characteristics of existing technologies, such as the high voltages required to trigger electroactive polymers ( > 1KV), low strain ( < 10%) of shape memory alloys and the need for external compressors and pressure-regulating components for hydraulic or pneumatic fluidicelastomer actuators, limit their practicality for untethered applications. Here we show a single self-contained soft robust composite material that combines the elastic properties of a polymeric matrix and the extreme volume change accompanying liquid-vapor transition. The material combines a high strain (up to 900%) and correspondingly high stress (up to 1.3 MPa) with low density (0.84 g cm(-3)). Along with its extremely low cost (about 3 cent per gram), simplicity of fabrication and environment-friendliness, these properties could enable new kinds of electrically driven entirely soft robots.The development of self-contained electrically driven soft actuators with high strain density is difficult. Here the authors show a single self-contained soft robust composite material that combines the elastic properties of a polymeric matrix and the extreme volume change accompanying liquid vapour transition.

Concepts: Density, Water, Polymer, Soft matter, Metallurgy, Pseudoelasticity, Polymers, Electroactive polymers


Understanding radiation responses of Fe-based metals is essential to develop radiation tolerant steels for longer and safer life cycles in harsh reactor environments. Nanograined metals have been explored as self-healing materials due to point-defect recombination at grain boundaries. The fundamental defect-boundary interactions, however, are not yet well understood. We discover that the interactions are always mediated by formation and annealing of chain-like defects, which consist of alternately positioned interstitials and vacancies. These chain-like defects are closely correlated to the patterns of defect formation energy minima on the grain boundary, which depend on specific boundary configurations. Through chain-like defects, a point defect effectively translates large distances, to annihilate with its opposite, thus grain boundaries act as highly efficient defect sinks that cannot saturate under extreme radiation conditions.

Concepts: Electron, Materials science, Metallurgy, Steel, Crystallographic defect, Gamma ray


For more than one century, hydrogen assisted degradation of metallic microstructures has been identified as origin for severe technical component failures but the mechanisms behind have not yet been completely understood so far. Any in-situ observation of hydrogen transport phenomena in microstructures will provide more details for further elucidation of these degradation mechanisms. A novel experiment is presented which is designed to elucidate the permeation behaviour of deuterium in a microstructure of duplex stainless steel (DSS). A hydrogen permeation cell within a TOF-SIMS instrument enables electrochemical charging with deuterium through the inner surface of the cell made from DSS. The outer surface of the DSS permeation cell exposed to the vacuum has been imaged by TOF-SIMS vs. increasing time of charging with subsequent chemometric treatment of image data. This in-situ experiment showed evidently that deuterium is permeating much faster through the ferrite phase than through the austenite phase. Moreover, a direct proof for deuterium enrichment at the austenite-ferrite interface has been found.

Concepts: Iron, Metallurgy, Steel, Austenite, Stainless steel, Nickel, Corrosion, Microstructure


Producing a single crystal is expensive because of low mass productivity. Therefore, many metallic materials are being used in polycrystalline form, even though material properties are superior in a single crystal. Here we show that an extraordinarily large Cu-Al-Mn single crystal can be obtained by abnormal grain growth (AGG) induced by simple heat treatment with high mass productivity. In AGG, the sub-boundary energy introduced by cyclic heat treatment (CHT) is dominant in the driving pressure, and the grain boundary migration rate is accelerated by repeating the low-temperature CHT due to the increase of the sub-boundary energy. With such treatment, fabrication of single crystal bars 70 cm in length is achieved. This result ensures that the range of applications of shape memory alloys will spread beyond small-sized devices to large-scale components and may enable new applications of single crystals in other metallic and ceramics materials having similar microstructural features.Growing large single crystals cheaply and reliably for structural applications remains challenging. Here, the authors combine accelerated abnormal grain growth and cyclic heat treatments to grow a superelastic shape memory alloy single crystal to 70 cm.

Concepts: Solid, Materials science, Metallurgy, Alloys, Pseudoelasticity, Shape memory alloy


Decades of research has been focused on improving the high-temperature properties of nickel-based superalloys, an essential class of materials used in the hot section of jet turbine engines, allowing increased engine efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions. Here we introduce a new ‘phase-transformation strengthening’ mechanism that resists high-temperature creep deformation in nickel-based superalloys, where specific alloying elements inhibit the deleterious deformation mode of nanotwinning at temperatures above 700 °C. Ultra-high-resolution structure and composition analysis via scanning transmission electron microscopy, combined with density functional theory calculations, reveals that a superalloy with higher concentrations of the elements titanium, tantalum and niobium encourage a shear-induced solid-state transformation from the γ' to η phase along stacking faults in γ' precipitates, which would normally be the precursors of deformation twins. This nanoscale η phase creates a low-energy structure that inhibits thickening of stacking faults into twins, leading to significant improvement in creep properties.

Concepts: Electron, Iron, Metallurgy, Titanium, Jet engine, Turbine, Engine, Gas turbine


Synthetic structural materials with exceptional mechanical performance suffer from either large weight and adverse environmental impact (for example, steels and alloys) or complex manufacturing processes and thus high cost (for example, polymer-based and biomimetic composites). Natural wood is a low-cost and abundant material and has been used for millennia as a structural material for building and furniture construction. However, the mechanical performance of natural wood (its strength and toughness) is unsatisfactory for many advanced engineering structures and applications. Pre-treatment with steam, heat, ammonia or cold rolling followed by densification has led to the enhanced mechanical performance of natural wood. However, the existing methods result in incomplete densification and lack dimensional stability, particularly in response to humid environments, and wood treated in these ways can expand and weaken. Here we report a simple and effective strategy to transform bulk natural wood directly into a high-performance structural material with a more than tenfold increase in strength, toughness and ballistic resistance and with greater dimensional stability. Our two-step process involves the partial removal of lignin and hemicellulose from the natural wood via a boiling process in an aqueous mixture of NaOH and Na2SO3 followed by hot-pressing, leading to the total collapse of cell walls and the complete densification of the natural wood with highly aligned cellulose nanofibres. This strategy is shown to be universally effective for various species of wood. Our processed wood has a specific strength higher than that of most structural metals and alloys, making it a low-cost, high-performance, lightweight alternative.

Concepts: Engineering, Cell wall, Lignin, Materials science, Cellulose, Metallurgy, Wood, Specific strength


In the present study, the influence of Ti-containing inclusions on the development of acicular ferrite microstructure and mechanical properties in the multipass weld metals has been studied. Shielded metal arc weld deposits were prepared by varying titanium content in the range of 0.003-0.021%. The variation in the titanium content was obtained by the addition of different amounts of titanium oxide nanoparticles to the electrode coating. The dispersion of titanium oxide nanoparticles, composition of inclusions, microstructural analysis, tensile properties and Charpy impact toughness were evaluated. As the amount of Ti-containing inclusions in the weld metal was increased, the microstructure of the weld metal was changed from the grain boundary allotriomorphic ferrite structure to acicular ferrite with the intragranular nucleation of ferrite on the Ti-containing inclusions, and the mechanical properties were improved. This improvement is attributable to the increased percentage of acicular ferrite due to the uniform dispersion of Ti-containing inclusions and the pinning force of oxide nanoparticles against the growth of allotriomorphic ferrite and Widmanstätten ferrite from the austenite grain boundaries.

Concepts: Iron, Materials science, Electrode, Metallurgy, Toughness, Arc welding, Gas metal arc welding, Shielded metal arc welding


Replacing noble metals in heterogeneous catalysts by low-cost substitutes has driven scientific and industrial research for more than 100 years. Cheap and ubiquitous iron is especially desirable, because it does not bear potential health risks like, for example, nickel. To purify the ethylene feed for the production of polyethylene, the semi-hydrogenation of acetylene is applied (80 × 10(6) tons per annum; refs 1-3). The presence of small and separated transition-metal atom ensembles (so-called site-isolation), and the suppression of hydride formation are beneficial for the catalytic performance. Iron catalysts necessitate at least 50 bar and 100 °C for the hydrogenation of unsaturated C-C bonds, showing only limited selectivity towards semi-hydrogenation. Recent innovation in catalytic semi-hydrogenation is based on computational screening of substitutional alloys to identify promising metal combinations using scaling functions and the experimental realization of the site-isolation concept employing structurally well-ordered and in situ stable intermetallic compounds of Ga with Pd (refs 15-19). The stability enables a knowledge-based development by assigning the observed catalytic properties to the crystal and electronic structures of the intermetallic compounds. Following this approach, we identified the low-cost and environmentally benign intermetallic compound Al(13)Fe(4) as an active and selective semi-hydrogenation catalyst. This knowledge-based development might prove applicable to a wide range of heterogeneously catalysed reactions.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Catalysis, Heterogeneous catalysis, Hydrogenation, Metallurgy, Alloy, Intermetallics, Palladium


Graphene-based three-dimensional porous macrostructures are believed of great importance in various applications, e.g. supercapacitors, photovoltaic cells, sensors and high-efficiency sorbents. However, to precisely control the microstructures and properties of this material to meet different application requirements in industrial practice remains challenging. We herein propose a facile and highly effective strategy for large-range tailoring the porous architecture and its properties by a modified freeze casting process. The pore sizes and wall thicknesses of the porous graphene can be gradually tuned by 80 times (from 10 to 800 μm) and 4000 times (from 20 nm to 80 μm), respectively. The property experiences the changing from hydrophilic to hydrophobic, with the Young’s Modulus varying by 15 times. The fundamental principle of the porous microstructure evolution is discussed in detail. Our results demonstrate a very convenient and general protocol to finely tailor the structure and further benefit the various applications of porous graphene.

Concepts: Materials science, Photovoltaics, Metallurgy, Young's modulus, Property, Tailor, Microstructure, Ceramography


Abstract Objective. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of heat treatment on the cyclic fatigue resistance, thermal behavior and microstructural changes of K3 NiTi rotary instruments. Materials and methods. Twelve control (as-received) and 12 experimental (heat-treated) K3 NiTi rotary instruments were compared in this study. Those experimental K3 instruments were heated in a furnace for 30 min at 450°C and then quenched in water. The cyclic fatigue resistance was measured with a fatigue tester. The thermal characteristic and the microstructures of both instruments were investigated by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), respectively. Results. There was a significant increase in the cyclic fatigue resistance between the heat-treated instruments and the as-received instruments (T-test, p < 0.05). DSC showed that the as-received and heat-treated samples were different, with an increased Af (austenite-finish temperature) for the latter. TEM analysis revealed that both as-received and heat-treated instruments were composed mainly of an austenite phase. However, the heat-treated samples had an increased appearance of larger grains, twinning martensite, TiO2 surface layer and a Ni-rich inner layer. Conclusions. Heat treatment increased the cyclic fatigue resistance of NiTi files and changed the thermal behavior of the instruments without marked changes in the constituting phases of NiTi alloy.

Concepts: Thermodynamics, Heat, Differential scanning calorimetry, Transmission electron microscopy, Metallurgy, Austenite, Furnace, Heat treatment