Scientists discover metal that heals itself

Scientists discover metal that heals itself

In a find that could lead to an “engineering revolution,” scientists in New Mexico witnessed metal “heal itself,” reports Freethink. Some day, this could result in bridges, skyscrapers, and other large structures fixing themselves after they experience metal fatigue. That would save the economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually:

repeated stress or motion can “fatigue” metals, causing microscopic cracks to form in them. These tiny cracks then grow until they eventually cause the metal to snap or break apart.

To minimize the chance of this leading to a collapsed building or bridge, engineers will incorporate extra safety features and redundancies into their designs. Those can multiply construction costs, and some will still break due to metal fatigue.

“When they do fail, we have to contend with replacement costs, lost time, and, in some cases, even injuries or loss of life,” said Brad Boyce, a materials scientist…“The economic impact of these failures is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars every year for the US.”

Nano-surprise: While studying the nanoscale cracks that form during the earliest stages of metal fatigue, SNL researchers discovered that, under the right conditions, the tiny fissures can fuse back together, leaving no sign of the previous damage.

“This was absolutely stunning to watch first-hand,” said Boyce. “What we have confirmed is that metals have their own intrinsic, natural ability to heal themselves, at least in the case of fatigue damage at the nanoscale.”

The SNL group witnessed the phenomenon during an experiment in which a tiny piece of platinum was tugged from both ends 200 times per second, in a vacuum.

As they expected, the researchers saw cracks characteristic of metal fatigue form in the metal. What they didn’t expect was that one end of a crack would fuse back together about 40 minutes into the experiment, leaving the rest of the crack to reform in a different direction….Right now, all the researchers know is that platinum is able to autonomously overcome the early signs of metal fatigue in a lab. Future studies will be needed to see whether other metals — especially cheaper, stronger, and more common ones — share this ability, under conditions that could be useful for engineering.

“The extent to which these findings are generalizable will likely become a subject of extensive research,” said Boyce. “We show this happening in nanocrystalline metals in vacuum. But we don’t know if this can also be induced in conventional metals in air.”

If there’s a practical application at the end of this research, we could be headed toward an “engineering revolution,” according to the researchers, one in which bridges, buildings, and other structures can self-repair minor damage before it becomes a major problem.

In other news, robot technology has improved in cost and sophistication, with the result that robot waiters are now proliferating in restaurants.

Robotics is fueling other life-saving innovations. Doctors recently did the first robotic liver transplant in America. Robots can fit in small spaces in people’s bodies that a surgeon can’t reach without cutting through living tissue, or doing other collateral damage.

Medicine is advancing in other ways as well. A woman who was previously unable to have children recently received her sister’s womb in the first womb transplant in England. (Her sister already has kids).

Artificial intelligence is now developing highly-effective antibodies to fight disease. Doctors are using artificial intelligence to detect cases of breast cancer more effectively in Hungary, enabling them to remove such cancers before they can metastasize and kill women.

Scientists recently developed a treatment for alcoholism that reduces drinking by 90% among the lab monkeys it was tested on. Scientists recently came up with a substance that whitens teeth and also kills 94% of bacteria.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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