Nanomechanical Testing in Controlled Environments and in the TEM (Nano-TCT)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials


Nanomechanical testing is a technique that can measure the mechanical propertes (stiffness, hardness, strength) of very small volumes of material with dimensions much smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This is very important for a number of areas of engineering and technology including: nuclear materials, materials for energy storage applications, coatings, advanced manufacturing, biomaterials, printed electronics and 2D materials such as graphene. This proposal is to acquire two pieces of equipment that can be used to further research in these areas.

The first is a Nanoindenter that will be used primarily to study the hardness and stiffness of the near surface layers of a material. It will be used for a number of research projects including studies to improve the coatings used on gas turbine blades used in aerospace engines. This research is aimed at enabling the engines to run more efficiently at higher temperatures and with reduced cooling, simplifying their design and manufacturing costs. It will be equipped with a special stage allowing the study of the properties of materials below the freezing point of water allowing a better understanding of why some engineering materials become brittle at low temperatures. It will also have a stage to allow us to study how electrochemical reactions can influence mechanical properties, such as can occur during the corrosion of metals or the charging and discharging of batteries. Finally it will be used in work with biologists who are interested in how disease and age alters the mechanical proerties of the tissues within our bodies, e.g. the stiffening or arteries, embrittlement of bones and how conditions such as diabetes alter the properties of tissues and the subsequent well being of patients.

The second piece of equipment is a Picoindenter that allows the mechanical testing of very small material samples in the transmission electron microscope.

Planned Impact

The research enabled by the equipment will have impact in the following areas:

Energy: 20% of the electricity generated in the UK is sourced from nuclear power. Maintaining the operational capacity of this base is of critical importance to the UK economy. Nanoindentation is used to characterise the changes in mechanical properties of the near surface region during irradiation of samples to simulate reactor conditions. These experiments will help extend the service lifetime of existing generation facilities. The electrochemical cell stage will allow us to study the mechanical performance of Li batteries during charging and discharging, helping us to understand the mechanisms of battery degradation with applications for future electric vehicles.

Transport and Aerospace: Modern aircraft engines depend critically on the use of protective or thermal barrier coatings to allow them to run at high temperatures without degradation. The ability to test coatings and coating materials under conditions closer to service will allow the development of more efficient and lighter engines. The aerospace industry is an important industrial sector in the UK and we expect the impact in this area to benefit the industry.

Healthcare: With the mean age of the population on the UK increasing there is a greater emphasis on the lifelong care and well being of individuals. The equipment will be used in collaboration with clinicians and researchers in the Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health to measure how the mechanical properties of tissue changes with ageing and disease. This can be used to increase our understanding of the pathology of these processes and develop methods to alleviate symptoms and develop new therapies. The benefits of this research will have significand societal impact.


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Description We have successfully proved the use of nanoindentation to probe the mechanical properties of materials at ultra-low temperatures. This has applications in determining the strength of engineering material under low service temperatures, e.g. marine structures in the off-shore environment. We have used the equipment to probe the strengths of Ag wires with diameters smaller than 1 micron (1/00 of the diameter of a human hair). These are used in transparent displays and the work will help understand their applications for flexible and foldable screens for the next generation mobile phones.
Exploitation Route Flexible nanowire conductors may be used as electrodes for body mounted electronics and human health monitoring.
Sectors Electronics,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology