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Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years

Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Yale University boffins have devised a new way of identifying super strong metallic glass alloys that will "drastically" increase the discovery rate of the "potentially revolutionary" materials.

Scientists are currently rushing to classify various complex alloys known as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs) from a a "vast compositional space". There are thought to be about 200 million of the alloys left to discover.

However, the current technique for finding the alloys is a painfully slow process of trial and error. At the current rate of discovery, says Jan Schroers, senior author of the paper, it would take some 4,000 years to clarify the precise combinations of elements which can make the metallic glass materials.

The team behind Yale's new discovery claim their technique could test the rest of the remaining alloys at rate of about 3,000 a day – up from a rate of just one a day – potentially uncovering all the metallic glasses in a matter of years, rather than millennia.

The new method could reduce the time it would take to process all possible combinations to about four years, Schroers told YaleNews.

So far, researchers have catalogued around 120,000 metallic glasses, which could be useful components in consumer or biomedical technologies.

"Instead of fishing with a single hook, we're throwing a big net," said Schroers. "This should dramatically hasten the discovery of BMGs and new uses for them."

Since 2010, he and his team have tested some 50,000 alloys using the new method, identifying three brand new ones in the process.

The technique includes a process called parallel blow forming, which forms "bubblegum-like bubbles" from the alloys, so their varying pliability and strength can be assessed.

"Instead of blowing one bubble on one material, we blow-form 3,000 bubbles on 3,000 different materials," Schroers added.

A technique called combinatorial sputtering is used in conjunction with the parallel blow forming used to create thousands of different alloys at the same time, mixing elements in tiny, intricately controlled portions to produce samples which are just a micron thick.

As well as saving time, the process saves money because less of the potentially costly elements are required.

Bulk metallic glasses are generally composed of three or more elements, such as magnesium, copper, and yttrium.

When heated and combined in exactly the correct way, they produce what Yale described as "materials with unusual plasticity and strength".

This glass can then be fashioned into shapes which no other metal can match.

The first BMG was produced at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1960. In a paper on the research into the exciting new materials, Caltech said:

"These bulk metallic glasses have unusual properties. They are typically much stronger than crystalline metal counterparts (by factors of 2 or 3), are quite tough (much more so than ceramics), and have very high strain limits for Hookean elasticity. A new class of engineering materials, BMG's offer an opportunity to revolutionize the field of structural materials with combinations of strength, ductility, toughness, and processability outside the envelope achievable using current technology."

Boffins recently predicted doctors would one day be able to fix bones using a metallic glass which gradually dissolves to be replaced by bone.

The paper on the Yale research is called "Combinatorial development of bulk metallic glasses" and is published in Nature Materials. ®

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