Apple Interested: Researchers At Yale Develop Metallic Material That Can Be Molded Like Plastic
By on May 2nd, 2011

Engineers have long craved for a material that is as strong as steel, having good conducting properties, but also being moldable like putty. They may soon get such a material, thanks to research done at Yale University. Moreover, it is cheap to produce. Apple has taken a particular interest in this, planning to make iPhones and iPads out of this material in future.

The new material is called ‘bulk metallic glasses’ (or BMG’s) and it has a structure akin to a metal alloy, but not quite. It is stronger than steel and is as moldable as plastic.



One of the gemstone studded badges developed in the lab using BMG's

 

What is it?

This is great news for fabricators working in fields of condensed matter physics and material sciences, not to mention plastic and synthetic makers. The ‘alloy’ is a mix of metals like zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper, and arranged in a structural pattern that is in-between a metal and a plastic. The key property of the material is that it doesn’t possess the long-range, crystalline order of metals. The atoms are not completely randomly oriented either. This gives the material the hardness and durability of metals, as well as the flexibility of plastics.

Fabrication

The fabrication of the material is also one of the pluses. The manufacture happens in one step. No ‘finishing touches’ are required to perfect the shape either. The shaping process involves inexpensive procedures used in the plastic industry, such as blow molding at low pressures, after slight heating.

A tiny perfume bottle made with BMG. The whole structure is completely seamless, and thus free of any weak contours

As Jan Schroers, leader of the research team at Yales and ex-director of research at Liquidmetal Technologies, notes:

It’s the low temperatures and low pressures that allowed the team to shape the BMGs with unprecedented ease, versatility and precision, Schroers said. In order to carefully control and maintain the ideal temperature for blow molding, the team shaped the BMGs in a vacuum or in fluid.

Jan Schroers with bottle fabricated using BMG in his lab

The blow molding method reduces friction to nearly zero, even at nanoscales, allowing the material to be made into any shape with utmost ease. Jan Schroers already sees a potential application in the manufacture of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), tiny mechanical devices that run on tiny electrical currents. Apple has quickly moved close to sanctioning a huge amount for commercializing BMG’s, aiming to use it for future iPhones and iPads.

Schroers signs off with the perfect last word:

This could enable a whole new paradigm for shaping metals.

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.
  • Mangesh

    Nice one… But it would have been better had BMG used cheaper and readily available metals. If that is achieved, it will be good to see a replacement to an extremely versatile alloy – steel.

 
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