Researchers breaking temperature barrier in small-scale materials testing

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Researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) have demonstrated a new method that can evaluate microscopic aeronautical materials at ultra-high temperatures by combing electron microscopy and laser heating.

Using a transmission electron microscope and targeted laser heating, the researchers were able to see and control where and how the material deformed at the highest temperature possible before the sample evaporated.

As proof of concept, the study tested zirconium dioxide, used in fuel cells and thermal barrier coatings, at temperatures up to 2,050 C, “a temperature well above anything that you could do previously,” said Shen Dillon, a professor of materials science and engineering at UI.

“We were able to bring the laser together with the mechanical tester so precisely with the TEM that we could heat the sample without overheating the mechanical tester,” said Dillon. “Our test allows you to grow a thin film of the material without any special processing and then put it in the microscope to test a number of different mechanical properties.”

The study will result in “more people using this technique for high-temperature tests in the future because they are much easier to do and the engineering interest is definitely there,” Dillon said.

Until now, researchers have been unable to conduct successful micro-scale materials tests at the extreme temperatures experienced by critical components during flight.

The findings, posted on UI’s website on Tuesday, have been published in the journal Nano Letters. Enditem

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