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Researchers create nano-architectured aluminum alloy with strength of steel


September 8, 2010

Surface etched aluminum bar (Image: Alchemist-hp)

Surface etched aluminum bar (Image: Alchemist-hp)

Using a technique that creates a new nanoscale architecture, researchers have created an aluminum alloy just as strong as steel but with reasonable plasticity to stretch and not break under stress. Importantly, the technique of creating these nanostructures can be used on many different types of metals and the team plans to work on strengthening magnesium, a metal that is even lighter than aluminum that could be used to make strong, lightweight body armor for soldiers.

Dr. Yuntian Zhu, a professor of materials science at North Carolina State University worked on the project to create the super strong aluminum alloy along with colleagues from the University of Sydney in Australia; the University of California, Davis; and Ufa State Aviation Technical University in Russia. He says the aluminum alloys have unique structural elements that, when combined to form a hierarchical structure at several nanoscale levels, make them super-strong and ductile.

The aluminum alloys have small building blocks, called “grains,” that are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. Each grain is a tiny crystal less than 100 nanometers in size. Bigger is not better in materials, Zhu says, as smaller grains result in stronger materials. Zhu also says the aluminum alloys have a number of different types of crystal “defects.” Nanocrystals with defects are stronger than perfect crystals.

Aside from Zhu’s plans to collaborate with the Department of Defense on a project to make magnesium alloy to be used in body armor, the ability to create lighter – yet stronger – materials is crucial to devising everything from more fuel-efficient cars to safer airplanes.

The paper detailing the team’s findings appears in the journal Nature Communications.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Transparent Aluminum, anyone? (StarTrek IV, The Voyage Home) Before we all know it, it\'s a reality. Light-weight & superstrong. Yay science! And the Magnesium idea is even better.


and yet they still don\'t produce transparent aluminum in commercial amounts... why IS that?

David Larson

Way cool!!

But, uh.... Like, how did they do it? Laser atomic guidance? Sonic resonance micro crystal fabrication? Some sort of photon or electron based lithography? The eye of Sauron? At the risk of sounding devoid of a satiation point for graciously given free knowledge, \"please sir, I want some more...\"


So, if applied to steel alloy, it would make steel as strong as...?

William Lanteigne

I agree with GeoMoons, how was it done? More importantly, can they give us a figure (a guesstimate) on how much this would cost per pound? If the process is economically inviable to set up large scale production, it is just another nitch dead end.... Dennis www.PrometheusGoneWild.com


good first step. now, learn to clear up and properly align the crystals and transparency occurs.

David Larson

This sounds promising.

Ryein Goddard

well if you can put up to 24% lead in crystal and maintain transparancy then why not aluminum or magnesium.

Curt Puszykowski

What is with people asking for transparent aluminum?

When they say crystal, they only mean that the atoms are aligned in a grid. nothing says a crystal has to be transparent.

creating fine (small) crystals is relatively easy... pulse plating, rapid quenching (cooling from liquid), thin film deposition, or even strain hardening (beating the s*** out of it).

The breakthrough here appears to be the \"hierarchical structure\"... not sure how complicated their process is though.

The grains/crystals are areas of aligned atoms (like a grid)... a large grain (large grid of atoms) can slide past each other easily... but if there is more random distribution of atoms... or smaller grains that are not aligned, this makes it difficult for atoms to slide past each other, making the material much stronger.

Frank Forte
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