Invisible materials soon to be tangible reality

TEHRAN, Feb. 14 (MNA) – Iranian researcher Dr. Mohsen Esmaily, who has recently made a breakthrough in magnasium lightweight materials and been awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences because of it, believes the world of science will see more than just ‘invisible’ materials in the next decade.

29-year-old Iranian researcher Mohsen Esmaily, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has recently been awarded a prestigious scientific prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences for his breakthrough in magnesium alloys. For this occasion, we conducted an interview with the young researcher on the details of his findings and the impact of his research on the future of materials science which he defines as “ the backbone of every industrialized nation Science,” and “of utmost importance for developed countries.” What follows is Dr. Esmaily’s interview with Mehr News Agency:

 

You have made a breakthrough in magnesium lightweight materials. Can you explain in detail and in layman’s terms the purpose and findings of your research group and research activities, as well as its significance and application? Where did you get the inspiration for your project?

The change in our climate is now a major concern of all nations. The polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising due to an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. These issues are of great concern since low-lying countries could be flooded, and extreme weather conditions (as we are now facing in Iran) could cause major disasters and damage. It is now widely-accepted that climate change is related to the combustion of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide, CO2, is the gas considered to be mainly responsible for global warming. Thus, a key issue is to reduce fuel combustion and, thereby, reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, we have an obligation to save our planet and to prevent excessive use of finite resources, which also belong to coming generations, to our children.

Manufacturing lighter components is an effective way to reduce demand on resources, increase energy efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gases emissions. It is obvious that this is already underway in e.g., the transportation industry (cars, airplanes, trains, etc.), where the demand for lightweight products is ever increasing.

The economic benefits of lightweight materials are also tempting. As an example, a weight reduction of just one Kg in a commercial aircraft results in fuel savings of ~ 10,000 SEK (~ $1150 US) during its life cycle. When taking the air pollution-related diseases and injuries into account, it becomes apparent that any reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels becomes highly cost effective. Thus, there have been significant research initiatives within the lightweight construction materials arena around the globe during the last decade. Countries such as Britain, Germany, USA, Japan, and Sweden have undertaken major national research in this field.

Concerning Magnesium alloys, they are the lightest engineering materials, so when taking the abovementioned issues into account, one can clearly notice the importance of Magnesium alloys. They also exhibit tempting properties, well enough for many engineering applications. However, they corrode fast. Thus, during the last two decades there have been extensive research efforts to improve their corrosion resistance. Developing new alloys or employing new coating systems are two examples of such efforts. But, these methods are rather costly and still the corrosion issue of these materials had not been solved. My research demonstrates that there are possible and cheap approaches to tackle this problem.

 

 

As a result of your research, you have been financially supported by different funding sources and also awarded a prestigious prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. You were the youngest scientist ever who could receive this prize. Can you tell us about the latest prize you have received and what the usual criteria are for being qualified for such a prize?

This prize is given once a year to a researcher in the field of engineering sciences who has done a cutting edge research that is extremely beneficial for society. 

 

In what direction do you see your research going in the future? What is the next destination now that you managed to reach such good results in your research on magnesium alloys? Will your future research be also about Magnesium alloys?

My results in the field of Magnesium alloys clearly demonstrate that it is possible to improve materials’ properties by performing microstructural design. We have now targeted the properties of new materials. I will largely employ the concept that we discovered in our Magnesium research in my future research.

Magnesium alloys are part of my research. I am researching Aluminum alloys and also composites. And again, the goal is to discover relationships between Materials’ microstructure and their properties.

 

Mr. Esmaily, as an Iranian researcher working on projects in a foreign country, how do you find the experience? Could you also tell us about research strategies in the country where you live?

This is an interesting question, which could be discussed for more than one day. What I have seen and what I have experienced in Sweden is kind of different from many other countries. Research in Swedish universities and institutions are highly relevant to industries. Although basic research is also being conducted at universities, the industrial relevance of most projects defined for students (at all levels) are extremely high.

 

Can you give us some examples?

Sure. A clear example (that is understandable for everyone) is asphalt/bitumen research. You know that the primary use of asphalt/bitumen is in road construction. Sweden has cold winters. In northern parts of the country, temperature could decrease down to -20ºC during winter. You expect to see the asphalts destroyed (and need to be changed) by the end of each winter. However, the life expectancy of asphalts in Sweden is more than 15 years and in some parts more than 25 years! This is related to a research that was done more than 20 years ago, which resulted in development of (not expensive) asphalts that last much longer than what we use, for example in Iran. So, since then, there have been huge savings in money and resources only in the road construction sector. Instead these resources are dedicated to society health care and also to new technologies, which can effectively promote economic growth. Note that this is only one example of how industrial relevance of research projects being conducted in universities is beneficial for society.

 

This is very interesting. Dr. Esmaily, what about where you are conducting your research, Chalmers University of Technology, from this point of view?

There are different ranking systems, one is the CWTS Leiden Ranking which measures the collaborative research with industry among more than 700 larger universities around the globe. In this ranking, Chalmers attained the third place among all leading universities in the world in the year 2014. This clearly indicates that Sweden in general, and Chalmers in particular, has a clear vision/plan concerning such university-industry partnerships.

Source: Getty

 

Why Materials Science and Engineering? In what ways can materials science help the realization of humanity’s dreams and imaginations in the future?

I am always asked by fresh university students as why Materials Science and Engineering is important, or is it a good subject to choose? Materials Science is a multidisciplinary field of engineering which is placed in the intersection of Chemistry, physics and mechanics. In some growing societies, Materials Science is sometimes under-appreciated, simply because EVERYTHING is made of materials. I believe, it is needed to step back and think what is in your cell phones, in your computers, and what is in all things you are using all the time. If you do that, you realize that it is a really special field. The point is that Materials Science is the backbone of every industrialized nation. This is because materials (metallic materials, polymers, ceramics as well as composites and semiconductors) are the backbone of technology. Materials scientists study various subjects including casting, welding, metal forming, heat treatment, nanotechnology, surface technologies, corrosion and oxidation, mining, and biomaterials. These are used in all engineering components, in cars, airplanes, laptops, mobile phones, medical devices, implants, etc.

Materials Science is of utmost importance for developed countries. I would like to give you some statistics to make this clearer. Only in the field of corrosion and oxidation, corrosion is tremendously costly for every society. In 2008, corrosion cost in Sweden was estimated to be 100 billion Swedish kronor. In the USA, the direct cost of metallic corrosion is $276 billion on an annual basis. When taking indirect costs of corrosion into accounts the mentioned numbers are increased a lot. Regarding welding, again a figure from Sweden, a measure of the significance of welding for Swedish society has been provided by the Swedish Welding Commission, which estimates that one third of gross national product (GNP) has content associated with welding.

Another example is the lightweight technology that includes a wide range of materials, manufacturing processes, as well as joining/welding techniques. All the sectors are closely linked to Materials Science and Engineering, where the properties/performance of materials are studied in relation to processing parameters and to their microstructures.

So, it is now clearer than ever before that research in the field of Materials Science is crucial, if they are appropriately directed towards needs, problems and also novel technologies.

 

You mentioned ‘novel technologies’. With the current extensive advancements in science and technology, do you think building ‘invisible’ materials is feasible in the future?

Invisible materials are also linked to Materials Science. ‘Invisibility’ effect is strongly related to interactions between light and a material. Hence, when light hits the material, it is either absorbed or reflected. Therefore, we are able to see objects. Though, Materials scientists are now producing ‘metamaterials’ (using nanotechnology) that are able to reflect light in a ‘wrong’ way. They are, indeed, bending light waves around an object. In fact, it is now being possible to control the interaction between materials and light. Of course, this is something that comes soon, invisible laptops, invisible mobile phones etc. I can tell you that we will see more than invisible materials in the next decade.  

 

Interview by: Marjohn Sheikhi 

 

News Code 114355

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