UVa Researchers Work to Better Special Steel

By: Althea Paul
By: Althea Paul

Several UVa professors are striving for perfection. They're the first to discover a non– magnetic amorphous steel material. The scientists have been able to produce large–size samples, and are now trying to make it tougher.

"The big goal was to make it bulk," said UVa Material Sciences and Engineering Professor Gary Shiflet. "And that was achieved, but once you do that, you're never satisfied. But the material, it is a glass, and right now it's brittle."

The researchers first discovered the special steel about three years ago, while working on a program initiated by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"The amorphous steel has the same density as conventional steel, but it's three times stronger or more," said Shiflet. "So you just use less."

That means navy ships built with the material would run faster because they're lighter. Also important, the glassy steel is non–magnetic, so it can't be detected.

The whole process was not an easy task. Researchers spent countless hours working with different elements until they found the right one.

"You can't just put a monkey on a typewriter and just let it walk around and find the right combination,” said Joseph Poon, UVa Physics Professor. "So that's the challenge."

But the goal was achieved, the first glassy steel compound that's not magnetic. However, the researchers say there's still work to be done.

"What we need to do is toughen up these materials quite a bit. And that's where we are right now," said Poon.

Right now, a sample about a half-inch thick can be made in the UVa research lab, but other facilities are working from the professors patent to develop more of the bulk material. The scientists say the steel could be used commercially within the next three to five years.

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