Amorphous Steel: Three Times Stronger and Non-magnetic
Scientists at the University of
Virginia have announced the discovery of a non-magnetic amorphous material that
is three times stronger than conventional steel and has superior anti-corrosion
properties. A future variation of the new material, called DARVA-Glass 101,
could be used for making ship hulls, lighter automobiles, tall buildings,
corrosion-resistant coatings, surgical instruments and recreational equipment.
The scientists say commercial use of the material could be available within
three to five years.
The material, made up of steel alloys that possess a randomized arrangement of
atoms -- thus "amorphous steel" -- was discovered by modifying an earlier
version of amorphous steel known as DARVA-Glass 1 reported by the U.Va.
researchers at the Fall 2002 meeting of the Materials Research Society. In May
of this year they reported on DARVA-Glass 101 in the Journal of Materials
"Amorphous steels can potentially revolutionize the steel industry," said Joseph
Poon, professor of physics at U.Va. and principal investigator for the team that
has discovered the material and is now making alterations of it for possible
future use in mass production.
Poon's U.Va. co-investigators are Gary Shiflet, professor of materials science
and engineering, and Vijayabarathi Ponnambalam, materials physicist. Their
amorphous steel project at U.Va is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency's Structural Amorphous Metals Program.
According to Poon, researchers have been trying for years to make amorphous
steel in sizes large enough to have practical use. The U.Va researchers have
succeeded in producing large-size amorphous steel samples that can be further
scaled up. They achieve this by adding a small dose of a rare earth element or
yttrium to DARVA-Glass 1. The researchers believe that the large size rare earth
or yttrium atom causes destabilization of the competing crystal structure
wherein the significant atomic level stress can lead to the formation of the
amorphous structure. These discoveries make the U.Va. researchers optimistic
that the material will be economically available within the decade.
In a separate work, a group led by C.T. Liu, a physicist at the Oak Ridge
National Laboratory in Tennessee, has also reported on large size amorphous
steel similar to DARVA-Glass 101 in the June issue of Physical Review Letters,
also by modifying the DARVA-Glass 1 discovered by the U.Va scientists.
Poon said the amorphous steel is extremely strong, but brittle in its current
state. "We need to toughen the material more," he said. "We can always make it
According to the U.Va. researchers, amorphous steel can be machined as well as
manipulated like a plastic. "It can be squeezed, compressed, flattened and
shaped." Poon said.
The material is of particular interest to the Navy for making non-magnetic ship
hulls, particularly for submarines, which are detectable by the magnetic field
of their hulls. The amorphous steel that the U.Va. team is refining is
non-magnetic, potentially making a ship invisible to magnetism detectors and
mines that are detonated by magnetic fields. The new material also may be useful
for producing lighter but harder armor-piercing projectiles. The publicly traded
company Liquidmetal Technologies owns an exclusive license to the amorphous
steel invented by the U.Va. scientists.
Other possible uses include recreational equipment such as tennis racquets, golf
clubs and bicycles as well as electronic devices.
University of Virginia
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