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Researchers in Singapore, MIT develop flexible ceramics

Posted: 02 Oct 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flexible ceramics? zirconia? ductility?

"Usually if you bend a ceramic by one per cent, it will shatter," Schuh added. But these tiny filaments, with a diameter of just 1?!one millionth of a metre!can be bent by 7-8 per cent repeatedly without any cracking, he continued.

While a micrometre is pretty tiny by most standards, it's actually not so small in the world of nanotechnology. "It's large compared to a lot of what nanotech people work on," Lai stated. As such, these materials could be important tools for those developing micro- and nanodevices, such as for biomedical applications. For example, shape-memory ceramics could be used as microactuators to trigger actions within such devices!such as the release of drugs from tiny implants.

Compared to the materials used in microactuators, Schuh said, the strength of the ceramic would allow it to exert a stronger push in a microdevice. "Microactuation is something we think this might be very good for," he indicated, because the ceramic material has "the ability to push things with a lot of force!the highest on record" for its size.

The ceramics used in this research were made of zirconia, but the same techniques should apply to other ceramic materials. Zirconia is "one of the most well-studied ceramics," Lai said, and is already widely used in engineering. It is also used in fuel cells, considered a promising means of providing power for cars, homes and even for the electric grid. While there would be no need for elasticity in such applications, the material's flexibility could make it more resistant to damage.

The material combines some of the best attributes of metals and ceramics, the researchers added: Metals have lower strength but are very deformable, while ceramics have much greater strength, but almost no ductility!the ability to bend or stretch without breaking. The newly developed ceramics, Schuh said, have "ceramiclike strength, but metallike ductility."

Robert Ritchie, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "The very notion of superelastic ceramics is somewhat of a surprise. ... We all know that ceramics invariably are extremely brittle."

Ritchie, who was not connected with this work, pointed out that shape-memory metals are already used in satellite antennae and in self-expanding dental and cardiovascular prostheses. "Applying these concepts to ceramics, however," he said, "is somewhat startling and raises many interesting possibilities."

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