MRI: Development of and Broad-Based Materials Research with the Next-Generation Nanomechanical Testing Laboratory
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Non-technical: The objective of this project is to push the frontier of nanomechanical science to new horizons by developing the next generation nanomechanical testing laboratory and using it to advance fundamental understanding of materials behavior in several key scientific areas. Four core scientific studies are planned by team members from several different academic institutions. These are: (1) a fundamental study of the mechanisms of deformation that often produce enormous strength when the size of an engineering material is reduced to the sub-micrometer and nanometer scales; (2) nano-scale mechanical studies of geophysical materials as they relate to and control large-scale geophysical phenomena like earthquakes; (3) scientific factors limiting the performance of materials used for sustainable energy conversion and storage in advanced fuel cells; and (4) the unusual mechanisms of deformation and fracture in bulk metallic glasses, a relatively new class of engineering materials with unique properties not achievable in ordinary metals. In addition to the four core studies, an extended team of research partners from nine academic institutions and a national laboratory has been assembled to develop and use the system for a variety of other cutting edge materials research activities in areas as diverse as advanced batteries, welding, micro-electro-mechanical systems, additive manufacturing, protective ceramic coatings, space power systems, and two-dimensional sheet structures. The research and development partners support numerous PhD students and postdocs who will use the instrument in their research. To facilitate these interactions, summer workshops are planned to provide basic operational instruction for the graduate students and postdocs as well as summer research experiences for undergraduates. A key industrial partner will commercialize the technology. Technical: The nanomechanical testing laboratory, which can be used for nanoindentation, nano-compression, and nano-tensile testing, is based on several new technologies and capabilities not available on any other instrument in the world. These include: highly localized electrical resistance heating for very high temperature testing up to 1100C in high vacuum or in controlled gaseous environments; a revolutionary laser interferometric displacement measurement system with sub-nanometer resolution that eliminates longstanding problems caused by thermal drift and load frame compliance; fast Fourier signal analyzers for high speed data acquisition and feedback control at rates in the MHz range to address many unanswered but timely questions about rate effects on material behavior; unprecedented sample positioning and alignment made possible through long working distance optical systems and five independent piezo motion actuators to maximize alignment and targeting capability; and high rate testing for rapid property mapping. Many other cutting-edge design elements are also incorporated in the design. Effective integration of system components and subsystems is greatly facilitated by the collective expertise of the broad range of scientists and engineers on the team who have special skills and expertise in materials science, mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry and geology. When fully developed, the system will be operated as a national shared user facility in the Texas A&M Materials Characterization Facility (MCF).