Researchers from UCLA have created a new kind of metal composite made from magnesium infused with silicon carbide nanoparticles, and it's both lightweight and super-strong.
Magnesium can be used for load-bearing engineering, and in many ways it's an attractive option -- it's far lighter than either titanium or aluminium. But it's also less stiff and strong than many metals, so researchers from UCLA have been working out how they could boost its material properties to make it a more attractive proposition.
Their approach was to mix silicon carbide nanoparticles -- that's the super-hard ceramic used on cutting blades -- into a molten magnesium zinc alloy. That allowed them to disperse the nanoparticles evenly through the metal, before it was cooled and compressed using high-pressure torsion.
The final product -- technically known as a nano-composite -- is about 14 per cent silicon carbide and 86 per cent magnesium by weight, and its properties seem impressive. In a series of tests, the researchers have shown that, compared to materials with a similar density, it demonstrates 'record levels' of stiffness-to-weight ratio and strength-to-weight ratio. The results are published in Nature.
In the image above, you can see a sample of plain magnesium on the left and the new material on the right. The presence of the nanoparticles, which you can see around the base of the micropillar of metal, help the material to resists forces.
The team behind the new material reckons it could be used in aerospace applications, where high strength and light weight are qualities of choice. There's no suggestion as to how expensive the nano-composite will prove, but the team does claim the manufacturing technique is 'scaleable.'