Some folks in academia are still doing some useful things. At UCLA, researchers have created a metal that is extremely light and extremely strong, enough so that it may revolutionize things like aircraft. Excerpt:
A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.
To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals. The research was published today in Nature.
“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.”
Hank Rearden was unavailable for comment.
I’m no metallurgist (quite the contrary, having been schooled in Biology) but it seems that the stumbling block here would be obvious: Can this process be scaled up to industrial level? Also, will these new metals be as durable under use as the good old time-tested steel and aluminum?
Now, if this can be done, then we may well see a revolution in manufacturing and civil engineering the likes of which Ayn Rand described decades ago in Atlas Shrugged.
Then again, unlike in AS, this discovery was made by academics, not by private industrialists. Still, if it can be scaled up successfully, one suspects it will be an industrial concern that figures out how to do so. Why? Incentive.
Early on in Atlas Shrugged, the aforementioned Hank Rearden is speaking with an acquaintance who warns him that he isn’t popular with the public. “They say your only goal is to make money,” the ‘friend’ warns him.
“My only goal is to make money,” Rearden replies.
The real major industrial revolutions are generally made with this motive. And that’s as it should be.