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Ceramics and glass business news of the week

Published on April 11th, 2014 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire

University of Virginia and Virginia Tech join Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre network

Rolls-Royce announced today that Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia are joining the global Rolls-Royce University Technology Centers network, consisting of research groups in world-class universities identified to develop long-term research and technology programs. Creating a UTC provides each party with mutual benefits through funding of fundamental, collaborative research to advance key aerospace technologies critical to Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce has enjoyed a strong relationship with both universities for over a decade. Together with Rolls-Royce, they form the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems and are founding members of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. This incorporation as UTC’s allows more specific, technical research at the university level, leveraging the strengths of each institution, which could eventually lead to new product development.


Unifrax announces China investment

Unifrax I LLC (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) has entered into a Share Purchase Agreement to acquire a 29% stake in Shandong Luyang Share Co. Ltd.  from Nanma Town Collective Asset Management Center of Yiyuan County and has concurrently entered into several agreements with Luyang to establish a strategic cooperation relationship between Unifrax and Luyang. This includes a technology license agreement that will allow Luyang to use certain Unifrax manufacturing technology. Luyang develops, manufactures and sells a variety of refractory and insulation materials used primarily in China. Luyang has been in business for 30 years.


Energy Department invests more than $3 Million to advance US competitiveness in the fuel cell market

The Energy Department announced awards of more than $3 million to Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy for a project that could increase US competitiveness in the fuel cell market and give businesses more affordable, cleaner power options. This project will enhance the performance, increase the lifespan, and decrease the cost of stationary fuel cells for distributed generation and combined heat and power applications. The project will focus on developing an innovative carbonate fuel cell electrolyte matrix, which promises enhanced cell output and the doubling of service life. In addition, the project will look for opportunities to reduce costs through greater production by process improvements.


GE’s Immelt on clean energy, regulation, jobs (video)

(Bloomberg) Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co., talks about the company’s clean energy strategy, US manufacturing and regulation, and the need for more engineers in the country. He speaks with Bloomberg LP CEO Dan Doctoroff at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit 2014 in New York. (Ed. note—video is 32 minutes. Immelt discusses SOFC at about 12 minute mark.)


Kyocera introduces new ceramic coated cookware with proprietary technology to outlast and outperform

(WSJ) Kyocera, a producer of advanced ceramics, presents its new Ceramic Coated Cookware line featuring proprietary ceramic nonstick coating technology that has been shown to outlast and outperform other leading brands. This exclusive coating provides superior nonstick performance that is safe, scratch resistant, and very easy to clean. It is PTFE-free, PFOA-free and cadmium-free. The new pans are designed to perform on all cooking surfaces, including induction, and are oven-safe up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Owens Corning: Winner of the 2014 Green Cross for Safety medal

The National Safety Council congratulates Owens Corning as the winner of the 2014 Green Cross for Safety medal. Established in 2000, the Green Cross for Safety medal is awarded annually by the National Safety Council to an organization that demonstrates a steadfast commitment to improving safety and health in the workplace and beyond. The medal recipient exhibits safety leadership at all levels of the organization, boasts an outstanding safety record and is committed to improving the quality of life in the communities where its employees work and live. 



Will the brain power behind PowerPots sink or swim in the Shark Tank?

Published on April 10th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


The brain power behind PowerPots will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank this Friday at 9/8c. Credit: ThePracticalPower, YouTube.


Shelve your Friday night plans—or, at the very least, set your DVR—the guys from Power Practical are making their way to the “Shark Tank.”


Former ACerS editor Peter Wray blogged about Power Practical’s efforts (here and here) to crowdfund their PowerPots—equal parts cooking pot and portable energy source for your electronic devices—that use built-in thermoelectric units to power the pots.


They were successful, convincing 1,047 people to back their thermoelectric cookware to the tune of $126,204. Now, they’ll need to convince the sharks on ABC’s hit show that Power Practical is a sound investment.


(For those who aren’t familiar with the show, the “critically-acclaimed business-themed show” gives startups and those with the entrepreneurial spirit a chance to pitch their products before a roster of “self-made, multimillionaire and billionaire tycoons.” Landing a business deal with one of the sharks could mean big things—and big bucks—for a company.)


They do a pretty good job explaining the power behind PowerPots to the layman (see their YouTube channel here), and as a regular viewer, I’d venture a guess that they’ll be able to convince at least one shark to make an offer they can’t (or can) refuse.


Tune in Friday night at 9/8c and see if Power Practical will sink or swim in the “Tank.”



Feature image credit: ThePracticalPower, YouTube.

ACerS activities

Ceramics Gordon Conference announced for July 20–25

Published on April 9th, 2014 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire

0409ctt grc halloran

In addition to great research discussions, there’s also time for a little fun at the Ceramics Gordon Conference. Credit: John Halloran.


The next installment of the long-running Gordon Research Conference on “Solid State Studies in Ceramics” will be July 20–25, 2014, at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. The topic is “Challenges around transport and reactivity in ceramics,” and the organizer is Monika Backhaus (ACerS Fellow) of Corning Inc. The GRC will investigate phenomena related to ionic and charge carrier transport under driving forces, such as electric, temperature, and strain fields, along with complex boundary conditions at interfaces and surfaces in multicomponent and often reactive systems.


Compared with single crystals, materials with interfaces are much more complicated. “Everything gets more complex,” Backhaus says in an interview. “Interfaces are constrained. A lot of understanding is missing—what are the constraints, what are the boundary phases? How can we enhance the interface?”


All of the speakers are invited, and Backhaus says she invited speakers based on the “excellence of their work in an area with some new, fundamental understanding in the area that relates to applications, also.”


Backhaus says presentations will emphasize system level challenges and applications, such as membranes, fuel cells, membrane reactors, batteries, supercapacitors, thermoelectric generators, electroresistive or memresistive switches, and electronic storage devices.


The GRCs are known for their intellectual rigor. Sessions are comprised of a 40 minute presentation followed by 20 minutes of facilitated discussion. There are no concurrent sessions, and the environment encourages researchers to dive deep into the science, identify new challenges, stimulate new ideas, and spark new collaborations. Backhaus says it is not unusual for new proposals to be sketched out over lunch or dinner!


Backhaus decided to forgo the traditional off-topic last lecture in favor of a final session that will hit on short, hot topics brought up during the poster sessions. She hopes to stimulate new and innovative ideas up to the very last moment.


Applications for this year’s ceramics GRC are available at the GRC website. The program is listed below. The ACerS Basic Science Division traditionally helps support the ceramics GRC, especially to help students attend.


The ceramics GRC dates back to 1954 and was held yearly through 2008. At that time, it switched to an every-other-year schedule. One hallmark of the GRC is that it is by invitation (based on an application) and limited to only about 150 participants.


According to the GRC website, the conference franchise was founded “to promote discussions and the free exchange of ideas at the research frontiers.” Martha Mecartney, ACerS Fellow and organizer of the 2012 GRC, says, “Everyone attends the same session, stays on site, eats together in the cafeterias. There is also much time for discussion—for example, after a 40 minute invited talk, there would be 20 minutes of discussion, and much more informal discussion later in the evenings and in the late afternoons.”


Backhaus has put together an excellent program. Be sure to apply soon!




Feature image credit: GRC.

ACerS activities

Get ready for your two-minute talk in the Capital City—submit an abstract for Bioceramics 2014 today!

Published on April 9th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD



Biomedical materials live at the intersection between the principles of materials design and the functionality of medical practice. A key feature of that intersection is cross-pollination between the materials and medical fields—so robust conversations between those in the lab or factory and those treating patients is critical for development of products that best serve the ultimate user—us humans.


So if you’re wondering how to increase your pollination, look no further than Columbus, Ohio. The 2014 Innovations in Biomedical Materials: Focus on Ceramics conference will be coming to Ohio’s Capital City, July 30–August 1. “Bioceramics 2014 is designed to bring together applied researchers, medical practitioners and medical ceramic materials manufacturers and marketers to better develop emerging technologies, treatments, and products and devices,” states the conference website.


Mark Mecklenborg, ACerS director of technical publications and meetings, says, “It really is an effort to get the medical practitioner community talking with the materials researchers and manufacturers. The hope is to develop effective products and equipment, to focus research on areas with products that need to be developed, and to have an interchange among all three groups.”


The meeting, which will cover the healthcare environment, clinical applications, materials characterization, and surgical trends, will feature four stimulating plenary sessions:

  • Plenary Session I — Affordable healthcare? The role of bio-ceramic technology

henchSpeaker: Larry Hench

Hench is currently a professor in the Biomedical Engineering Program at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, a professor and director of Special Projects at the University of Central Florida, a visiting professor at Kings College/Guy’s Hospital University of London, a guest faculty at the Department of Bioengineering at Florida Gulf Coast University, and an emeritus professor at the University of Florida and Imperial College London (busy guy!). Prior to these appointments, Hench has a storied professional history, including his role as inventor of Bioglass. Hench has received many awards and is also an author of children’s books about science.

  • Plenary Session II — The Current Regulatory Environment

stiegmanSpeaker: Glenn Stiegman

Stiegman is vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs at Musculoskeletal Clinical Regulatory Advisers, LLC (MCRA) in New York, New York. He leads the submission, regulatory strategy, analysis, and development of products at MCRA. As former chief of the Orthopedic Devices Branch for the US FDA, Stiegman is an expert on the orthopedic industry and guidance and policy for marketed orthopedic devices.



  • Plenary Session III — Clinical Testing

SafdarKhanSpeaker: Safdar Khan

Safdar Khan is an orthopedic surgeon and heads the Division of Spine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Khan earned his MD from Aga Khan University (Pakistan) and completed clinical and research training at The Hospital for Special Surgery, University of California at Davis, Rush–St. Luke’s Presbyterian Medical Center, and Shriner’s Hospital for Children. Khan’s specialty is adult and pediatric advanced spinal deformities, and he has received a long list of honors and authored several journal articles, book chapters, and presentations. Khan is a self-described “amateur chef” and used to rock out on bass guitar in a band.

  • Plenary Session IV — Surgical Trends

DrBaeSpeaker: Hyun Bae

Hyun Bae is an orthopedic surgeon at The Spine Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. Bae earned his MD at Yale University and completed training at Northshore University Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, and Case Western Reserve University. He has received several honors, authored many research publications and book chapters, and frequently presents research and clinical work at professional meetings. He specializes in minimally-invasive microsurgery and treatment of cervical and lumbar spinal diseases, and he is a pioneer in new therapies, including stem cell transplants and nuclear replacements.


Each plenary session will be followed by panel discussions designed to maximize attendee participation and cross-pollinate dialogues over a range of topics, including orthopedics (two panels), new technologies, regulatory environment, radiotherapeutics, clinical testing, bioceramic testing, and dental applications. Some great names are already lined up for each panel discussion, with additional business and research leaders coming soon.


A new feature at Bioceramics 2014 is a Rapid-Fire Presentation session, in which researchers, medical practioners, and manufacturers can highlight their latest advances in research, products, and techniques. Presenters introduce their work in just two short minutes—and just two powerpoint slides—so brevity and impact are key. Presentations will be followed by a poster session to allow more in depth discussions and follow-up questions.


Bioceramics 2014 organizer Steve Jung says, “The Rapid-Fire Presentation is a significant enhancement to the traditional poster presentation. It allows the presenter the opportunity to highlight key aspects of the technology and helps the audience identify who they need to speak with during the poster session.”


Presentation applications are now accepted—apply today and then start practicing your two-minute delivery!



Feature image credit: Rfgagel; Wikimedia Creative Commons License. 


Concrete-sleeved caissons shore up new NYC skyscrapers that ‘barely touch the ground’

Published on April 9th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


 A planned $20-billion development in Manhattan—the largest private real-estate development in US history—relies on concrete-encased caissons to shore up six new skyscrapers and more than 17-million square feet of mixed-use space. Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube.


New York City is known as the city that never sleeps.


In truth, NYC’s residents are better rested than you might think (sixth-worst city for sleep in America ain’t bad)—but it’s easy to see why they might have trouble catching Zs when living, working, and playing amongst some of the world’s most recognizable and renowned architecture (though sadly not its tallest).


Hudson Yards

Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube

And by 2018, Manhattan’s iconic skyline will morph once again, with the addition of mixed-use skyscrapers—the largest private real-estate development in US history—that “barely touch the ground.”


Say what?


Hudson Yards

Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube

Wired reports that the Hudson Yards development—a planned $20-billion, 17-million square feet of multi-use space that’s been described as “Jenga-esque”—is being built without footings or foundations. Instead, Hudson’s six skyscrapers, 100 shops, 20 restaurants, school, and 14 acres of parks will “sit atop 300 concrete-sleeved, steel caissons jammed deep into the underlying bedrock.” 


The steel supports (similar to those used in construction of the Brooklyn Bridge) will allow the superstructures to float above West Side Yard—an existing and active train yard that provides overflow during rush hour—on a 37,000-ton platform.


As you can imagine, completing the platform’s construction with trains whizzing about requires coordination and 250 carefully placed concrete-encased caissons drilled 40 to 80 feet into the earth below. It also requires long (off) hours.


“The total punishment is somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 tons of steel and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete,” says lead platform engineer Jim White. “We look at the area of the yard and model in the train traffic, when it moves on an hourly basis, and actually design the connections so we can install these 100 foot long trusses when have a window of opportunity.”


Bloomberg reports that a large part of the work will be completed on weekends with 52 hours of “continuous shift work” that will drastically reduce the need to close tracks (as of now, only four track closures are expected).


Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube

Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube

Engineers anticipate that construction of the platform will be completed in two and a half years, and Related Companies, one of Hudson Yard’s developers, expects the entire project to wrap up by 2024.


To get an idea of what the project will look like—both during construction and upon completion—head on over to Gizmodo for some sweet gifs of the high-rise happenings at Hudson Yards.




Feature Image Credit: Hudson Yards, YouTube.




News from the glass and refractory ceramics world

Published on April 8th, 2014 | Edited By: P. Carlo Ratto


° Slovenian manufacturer Steklarna Hrastnik will invest €8 million in a container line upgrade, according to a company press release. The installation of the new B-furnace is scheduled for August and September and will require 250 people working 24 hours a day for 48 days. The new furnace will increase the capacity and quality of production of bottles, currently at 120 tonnes, to up to 140 tonnes per day at twice better quality glass. 


° Vivix of Grupo Cornélio Brennand, the Brazilian company based in Goiana, PE, has announced the start-up of a new complete float glass plant with an annual capacity up to 880 metric tons per day. The plant, which has been designed and provided by Fives, has been tailored to produce automotive, mirror, and architectural glass, with 60 percent of its output dedicated to architectural, 5 percent to automotive, and 30 percent to mirror glass. 


° Mineral sands miner Iluka may be facing a class action, after law firm ACA Lawyers announced on Monday that it had obtained funding to start proceedings against the company on behalf of shareholders. The suit will allege that Iluka failed to comply with its continuous disclosure obligation and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct. ACA Lawyers’ principal Steven Lewis said that the class action would seek compensation on behalf of Iluka shareholders who acquired their shares between May 2012 and July 2012. It will be alleged that Iluka’s zircon sales forecast in May 2012 was overly optimistic and not achievable. In July of that year, Iluka substantially downgraded its forecast for zircon sales to between 200,000 tonnes and 300,000 tonnes, having previously informed the market in May that zircon sales would be around 400,000 tonnes. As a result, Iluka’s share price crashed 24 percent, from $11.70 to $8.88 a share. 


Magnetic materials

Roll tide: Powder injection molding powers generator that pulls tidal energy

Published on April 8th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis

Powder injection molding technology is the secret to a new tidal energy generator that replaces conventional magnetic materials with alloys. Credit: UC3M, YouTube.


A team of scientists from Spain’s Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) is working with European researchers to develop a tidal energy generator that’s not only less costly but also more efficient.


According to a UC3M news release, the device would replace conventional magnetic materials with ones created using powder injection molding (PIM) technology, which professor José Manuel Torralba says would reduce the cost of tidal energy generators and increase their effectiveness by up to 30 percent.


“These generators use magnetic components that we are producing using PIM technology, which turns out to be more versatile when it comes to modifying the compositions and makes it possible to get the parts for a lower price,” Torralba explains in the release.


PIM—which combines the metallurgy magic that is plastic injection molding with powder technology—is a “real alternative” to complex part manufacturing says the researchers, who confirmed PIM’s problem-solving status in a paper published in International Journal of Microstructure and Materials Properties.


Torralba and team take the right recipe—combinations of powders with magnetic characteristics, like iron, silicon, cobalt, and nickel—and “bake” them into a polymer plastic mold that allows them to “create complex parts that are difficult and expensive to produce mechanically,” states the press release.


“The great advantage of this technology is that once you design the material, by modifying the mold, it is easy to manufacture millions of pieces that are exactly the same, in a manner that is simple, fast and quite inexpensive,” says Torralba.


The research is part of MAGNETIDE, an EU-funded research project that, according to its website, is the result of an “increased interest in wave power as a solution” to projected energy shortfalls and sources of renewable and sustainable energy.


It’s expected to be completed next year when the team’s first generator prototypes are scheduled for production.


If you’re fluent in Spanish, or if you just enjoy neat videos about new technology, check out the video above from UC3M.


The paper isPowder injection moulding: processing of small parts of complex shape” (DOI: 10.1504/IJMMP.2013.052648).




Do you think tidal energy has potential? Sounds to me it’s just one solution to the growing global energy challenges we face as the world’s population expands in areas where affordable and reliable energy just doesn’t exist. 



Feature Image Credit: UC3M, YouTube.

Materials melange

Other materials stories that may be of interest (with video)

Published on April 8th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD

A bionic kangaroo that mimics the real deal in looks and energy efficiency. Credit: erhanozturkk on Youtube.


Video: Bionic kangaroo with an energy-saving bounce

(Science) Inspired by nature, researchers have created a robotic kangaroo that can jump 40 centimeters high and 80 centimeters forward in one leap. By storing energy on each landing and applying it to the next jump, real kangaroos demonstrate incredible energy efficiency, Wired UK reports. Interested in creating a robot with the same principles, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network spent 2 years analyzing the marsupial and recreating its movements. See the results for yourself in the video above.


Strain can alter materials’ properties

In the ongoing search for new materials for fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics, separation membranes, and electronic devices, one newer approach involves applying and managing stresses within known materials to give them dramatically different properties. This development has been very exciting, says MIT associate professor of nuclear science and engineering Bilge Yildiz, one of the pioneers of this approach: “Traditionally, we make materials by changing compositions and structures, but we are now recognizing that strain is an additional parameter that we can change, instead of looking for new compositions.” Yildiz, who authored a recent Materials Research Society Bulletin paper describing work in this field, explains that “even though we are dealing with small amounts of strain”—displacing atoms within a structure by only a few percent—“the effects can be exponential,” in some cases improving key reaction rates by tenfold or more. 


Energy breakthrough uses sun to create solar energy materials

In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible. This breakthrough by chemical engineers at Oregon State University could soon reduce the cost of solar energy, speed production processes, use environmentally benign materials, and make the sun almost a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them. The work is based on the use of a “continuous flow” microreactor to produce nanoparticle inks that make solar cells by printing. Existing approaches based mostly on batch operations are more time-consuming and costly. In this process, simulated sunlight is focused on the solar microreactor to rapidly heat it, while allowing precise control of temperature to aid the quality of the finished product. The light in these experiments was produced artificially, but the process could be done with direct sunlight, and at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.


Nanostructures half a DNA strand-wide show promise for efficient LEDs

Nanostructures half the breadth of a DNA strand could improve the efficiency of light emitting diodes (LEDs), especially in the “green gap,” a portion of the spectrum where LED efficiency plunges, simulations at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have shown. Using NERSC’s Cray XC30 supercomputer “Edison,” University of Michigan researchers Dylan Bayerl and Emmanouil Kioupakis found that the semiconductor indium nitride (InN), which typically emits infrared light, will emit green light if reduced to 1 nanometer-wide wires. Moreover, just by varying their sizes, these nanostructures could be tailored to emit different colors of light, which could lead to more natural-looking white lighting while avoiding some of the efficiency loss today’s LEDs experience at high power. “Our work suggests that indium nitride at the few-nanometer size range offers a promising approach to engineering efficient, visible light emission at tailored wavelengths,” said Kioupakis.


Nanoparticles cause cancer cells to self-destruct

Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to ‘self-destruct’ sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University in Sweden. “The clever thing about the technique is that we can target selected cells without harming surrounding tissue. There are many ways to kill cells, but this method is contained and remote-controlled”, said Professor Erik Renström. In brief, the technique involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumour cell, where they bind to lysosomes, the units in the cell that perform ‘cleaning patrols’. Lysosomes can break down foreign substances that have entered a cell, and they can also break down the entire cell through a process known as ‘controlled cell death.’ The researchers have used nanoparticles of iron oxide that have been treated with a special form of magnetism. Once the particles are inside the cancer cells, the cells are exposed to a magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.


Wanna build a rocket? NASA’s about to give away a mountain of its code

(Wired.com) Forty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA open sourced the software code that ran the guidance systems on the lunar module. By that time, the code was little more than a novelty. But in recent years, the space agency has built all sorts of other software that is still on the cutting edge. And as it turns out, like the Apollo 11 code, much of this NASA software is available for public use, meaning anyone can download it and run it and adapt it for free. Next Thursday, NASA will release a master list of software projects it has cooked up over the years. This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions—and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people—the rocket guidance system, for instance—but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees. Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.


Hard knock life: Marine mollusks inspire stronger ceramics

Published on April 7th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD

0408ctt MIT bioceramic2 lo res

SEM image of the region surrounding an indentation made in a windowpane oyster seashell, showing the localization of damage to the area immediately surrounding the stress. Credit: Ling Li and James C. Weaver, MIT.


Earth has some pretty interesting tenants, many of which inspire us humans because of their extraordinary characteristics. I’ve reported before that the microstructure of super strong material nacre, or mother-of-pearl, has been an inspiration for less brittle glass.


New research shows that marine mollusks are continuing to inspire innovations, particularly in the way of ceramics.


Researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) report that nacre has inspired a new process for making stronger ceramics. The work, published in Nature Materials, successfully recreates nacre’s stacked nanobrick structure with ceramic materials.

0408ctt CNRS nacre lo res

Structure of natural mother-of pearl (top) and the
synthetic mother-of-pearl (bottom), at the same scale. Credit: Sylvain Deville, Florian Bouville, LSFC.


The team used alumina powder suspended in water and froze the colloidal suspension, controlling the growth of the ice crystals to get stacked platelets resembling nacre’s sturdy microstructure (image left). A high-temp densification finalized the product, a ceramic that is ten times stronger than traditional alumina ceramic. “This is because a crack has to move round the alumina ‘bricks’ one by one to propagate,” states the CNRS press release. “This zigzag pathway prevents it from crossing the material easily.”


According to the paper’s abstract, the authors report “the fabrication of bulk ceramics without a ductile phase and with a unique combination of high strength (470 MPa), high toughness (22 MPa m1/2), and high stiffness (290 GPa)” that “retain their mechanical properties at high temperatures (600 °C).”


The process can be applied to any ceramic powder than forms platelets and thus could allow industrial scaling of the process, indicates the press release. It continues, “This bio-inspired material’s toughness for equivalent density could make it possible to produce smaller, lighter parts with no significant increase in costs. This invention could become a material of choice for applications subjected to severe constraints in fields ranging from energy to armor plating.”


The paper is “Strong, tough and stiff bioinspired ceramics from brittle constituents” (DOI: 10.1038/nmat3915).


And although their inspiration comes from a different marine creature, researchers from MIT also have been bio-inspired to make stronger ceramics. Their creature of choice, Placuna placenta or windowpane oysters, have optically clear yet incredibly strong shells.


Windowpane oyster shells are composed of about 99% calcite, a traditionally brittle material, and 1% organic material, but are surprisingly strong. The MIT research, also published in Nature Materials, indicates that the strength again comes from microstructure, as the shells’ calcite is arrange in layered diamond-shaped crystals.


The researchers used indentation tests and high-resolution imaging to determine how precisely those crystals respond to deformation.

0408ctt MIT bioceramic lo res

SEM image of the localized effects of four separate indentation tests on windowpane oyster shells. Credit: Ling Li and James C. Weaver, MIT.


As the MIT press release explains, “The material initially isolates damage through an atomic-level process called ‘twinning’ within the individual ceramic building blocks: A crystal breaks up into a pair of mirror-image regions that share a common boundary, rather like a butterfly’s wings. This twinning process occurs all around the stressed region, helping to form a kind of boundary that keeps the damage from spreading outward.”


This process then “catalyses a series of additional inelastic energy dissipating mechanisms such as interfacial and intracrystalline nanocracking, viscoplastic stretching of interfacial organic material, and nanograin formation and reorientation,” states the paper’s abstract.


The release suggests the research could aid future development of synthetic materials for both commercial and military applications, including protective visible shields and windows.


The paper is “Pervasive nanoscale deformation twinning as a catalyst for efficient energy dissipation in a bioceramic armour” (DOI: 10.1038/nmat3920).



Feature image credit: Ling Li and James C. Weaver, MIT.


“Ode to ceramics”: Mazda’s concept car is eye-catching and edgy, but not-so-much ceramic

Published on April 6th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis

0318ctt-Rear-Mazda-6-lores Mazda’s Ceramic 6 concept car makes “ceramic” look good. Credit: Emmanuel McMathis.


On a recent March evening, I ventured out to the Columbus International Auto Show, eager to sit behind the wheel of cars I’ll never need and could never afford (Groupon, y’all).


One car caught my eye—not because of its flashy display or custom chrome wheels, but because of the word “ceramic” emblazoned upon its rear end.


Ceramic? Yes! (To be honest, I not-so-secretly fist pumped and high-fived my way across the floor of the Greater Columbus Convention Center for discovering a blog post on the weekend.)


Ceramic? Well…


Upon further research (and a few Internet searches), Mazda’s Ceramic 6 concept car is deceiving because, as far as this gal can tell, the ceramic white paint isn’t ceramic at all. Instead, the satin trim is a nod to the beauty of the craft—an understated yet stately paint job with equally stately (and sporty) silver accent stripes meant to “evoke imagery of flowing fabric and feelings of serenity.” More like a sophisticated gentleman in a white pinstripe suit.


Beyond its matte-white exterior lies the usual stuff that makes up a car—seats, steering wheel, and, if I had to guess, sound system. I’d tell you how the inside looked, or how the leather seats felt, but the Ceramic 6 was roped off for safekeeping, so I’ll just have to rely on CarScoops’ itemized intel (“Rays Volk Racing Original G25 10-spoke, 20-inch wheels finished in Taupe Silver, with performance goods including an H&R spring kit, a Racing Beat custom dual-exhaust and custom Brembo two-piece, six-piston 380×32 drilled rotors”) and these photos from the folks at CNET.


Having debuted at the 2013 Specialty Equipment Marketing Association show in Las Vegas, the car is currently making its way across the country. If you want to see it (but not sit in it) for yourself, head on out to a car show close to home.



Feature image credit: Emmanuel McMathis.

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