Engineering adding X-ray diffraction system for aerospace materials research

Engineering adding X-ray diffraction system for aerospace materials research

UNT Diving Eagle
December 19, 2023


UNT will gain a one-of-a-kind X-ray diffraction system for its aerospace materials research thanks to a multi-million-dollar grant. Marcus Young, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is leading the project to create a new X-ray diffraction system capable of measuring phase changes during mechanical deformation at extreme temperatures, which are relevant to hypersonic applications.

“Right now, the highest temperature we can achieve with a furnace is about 2,300 degrees Celsius. This system could theoretically let us go up to 4,000 degrees Celsius locally with the use of a laser,” says Young, who is investigating the behavior of shape morphing materials from room temperature to ultra-high temperatures for use in future hypersonic aircraft.

In Fahrenheit, that equals around 7,200 degrees. To put that in perspective, NASA says the surface of the sun is a little more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“With current systems, we can shoot a torch at a material and investigate the material only before and after the test in hopes that it doesn’t break apart,” Young says, “but if it does, we can’t see how it’s breaking apart. This new system will let us study that process while it is happening, which will allow us to identify the mechanism by which the material breaks.”

Young is working with the company Rigaku to design the customized X-ray diffraction system. It will be a mix of their standard mechanical testing rig and custom parts made specifically for the new machine.

The development is being funded by a $2.6 million grant from the Army Research Office as part of its Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. Young, along with UNT engineering professors Andrey Voevodin and Samir Aouadi, will use the system to test various shape memory alloys, refractory alloys, ultrahigh temperature ceramics, and, most importantly the interface between the metals and ceramics to see if they’re suitable for hypersonic speeds, which are five times faster than supersonic speeds. To put that into perspective, objects traveling at supersonic speeds reach temperatures higher than 1,800 degrees Celsius.

The system can record data on what is happening to materials as they’re being simultaneously heated and under load. The team will particularly be looking into shape morphing materials, materials that change shape upon command through either internal or external stimuli.

“We don’t really understand the mechanisms by which these materials break apart or, more importantly, stay together when we hit those extreme temperatures,” Young says. “With this new system, we hope we can identify some of these mechanisms of how high temperature materials interact with each other. Then we can modify them and test it again for a better result.”

The results of Young’s research will provide a fundamental understanding for future engineers to create machines such as jets or rockets with materials capable of withstanding hypersonic speeds and conditions. He says someday those materials could even be used for human space transport vehicles.

The combination X-ray diffraction system with localized laser heating under load makes the machine a one-of-its-kind system that Young says isn’t available in another university or anywhere else in the world currently. It will be housed at UNT’s Discovery Park. Young expects it to be popular with researchers there as well as researchers outside of the university who wish to collaborate with UNT.

“We already have some other professors interested in using the system for their research. I suspect that the doors will open for more proposals based on this system because of its unique capability,” Young says.