Titanium alloy research has potential benefits for industry
Six months into a research project on advanced titanium alloy fabrication, Professor Yufeng Zheng of the College of Engineering sees the potential to fabricate this lightweight yet strong material – essential in the aerospace and biomedical industries – at lower cost.
This would make titanium alloys more accessible to the many industries that need them, and could ultimately mean cheaper titanium prostheses and products.
Zheng’s research involves optimizing titanium alloy compositions – titanium combined with other metallic elements to increase malleability and workability – that contain low-cost alloying elements, rather than the alloying elements expensive currently in use. Also contributes to optimizing the manufacturing cost of titanium alloys: high processing temperatures.
“We are also trying to find a way to make titanium alloys at room temperature,” Zheng said.
Last fall, he received a $241,192 Collaborative Research Grant from the National Science Foundation for this work. Over the next three years, Zheng will partner with University of Michigan Professor Liang Qi on this project.
Zheng, who is also acting director of the Electron Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility (EMMF), examines titanium alloys in great detail, studying a mechanism that occurs at the atomic level known as strain twinning. . This process describes how atoms move along a specific orientation by displacement, generating the change in shape and volume.
Zheng and one of his graduate students, Dian Li, will use the state-of-the-art equipment available at EMMF to study a unique type of strain-twinning mechanism called the high-index strain-twining mechanism in titanium alloys.
“We will use the high-throughput mechanical fabrication and test equipment to rapidly map the interrelationship between alloy composition and deformation mechanism in titanium alloys,” Zheng said.
These results will guide the discovery of titanium alloys containing low cost elements with better machinability at room temperature.
Meanwhile, Qi will use first-principle computer simulation — an atomic-level modeling technique — and physics-based machine learning — a branch of artificial intelligence and computer science — to analyze the data. This information will be used to develop an innovative method to search for the targeted titanium alloy systems with improved workability at room temperature.
But it’s research here at the University of Nevada, Reno that ignites Zheng’s passion. His expertise is in electron microscopy, an area that the College of Engineering has prioritized. Over the past few years, EMMF has acquired the state-of-the-art equipment that Zheng and Li use to study titanium alloys, including the Thermo Scientific Scios 2 ion beam/scanning dual beam microscope and the scanning transmission electron microscope FEI Talos F200s.
“I am here at the right time,” said Zheng, who joined the University in 2019. “I really appreciate the College of Engineering’s dedication to expanding EMMF facilities. Without (the new equipment), I could not do this research.