3D-Printing next-gen alloys

metal gradient

Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, has unlocked new possibilities for unprecedented design and control of materials at the micro structural level.  While the technology is currently being explored for its potential to expand our use of polymers, ceramics, composite materials and certain metals, one graduate student in materials science and engineering at Penn State hopes to employ the technology in “printing” next generation alloys and developing techniques for bonding metals not currently possible through traditional means.

Richard Otis has recently been awarded the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) to study and explore the use of 3-D printing technology to create gradient alloys.  Gradient alloys would allow small amounts of one metal to be gradually overlaid with another in varying ratios creating a gradual transition from one metal or alloy to another.  Stainless steel and aluminum for example cannot be welded together, but a structural component made of a stainless steel to aluminum gradient alloy could allow stainless steel and aluminum members to be joined without using fasteners. Another possibility is that the thermal expansion coefficient of a gradient alloy could be precisely designed for a particular application.

graduate student richard otis“Designing new gradient alloys is a difficult process, but I propose an approach based on thermodynamic modeling that will enable us to predict which gradient alloys are feasible and which ones will be too brittle.”  Says Otis.

NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships are awarded to graduate student researchers who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies for our nation’s science, exploration, and economic future.  Selected candidates perform research at their respective campuses and at NASA Centers and/or at nonprofit U.S. Research and Development (R&D) laboratories. In addition to his or her faculty advisor, each student is matched with a technically relevant and community-engaged researcher who will serve as the student’s research collaborator.

“My goal is to work with experimental metallurgists at NASA to validate my models and, if successful, build some prototype gradient alloys.”

Otis is advised by Zi-Kui Liu, professor of materials science and engineering, in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.