A Material World
Materials Science and Engineering student Jack Armstrong’s research to characterize a nickel alloy helps improve nuclear and aerospace application.
Finding new and different ways to manufacture and use materials is essential for innovation. This requires knowledge of how a material will perform under very specific circumstances.
“What you learn in materials science is unique. You get to see things from an atomic level, learn what’s going on inside materials and the chemistry behind it, and use that information to make better engineering decisions.”Jack Armstrong
Materials science is the study of how we build better nuclear radiation shielding solutions, better airplane parts, medical implants, and nuts and bolts that hold under the most drastic circumstances.
For University of Idaho transfer student Jack Armstrong, that’s why pursuing a materials science and engineering degree in the College of Engineering made the most sense.
“What you learn in materials science is unique, and it’s all connected to other engineering fields,” he said. “You get to see things from an atomic level, learn what’s going on inside materials and the chemistry behind it, and use that information to make better engineering decisions.”
As a sophomore, Armstrong said he was eager to get a better scope of the materials industry. The best way to do this was to get involved in undergraduate research – a process he said can be intimidating.
“Research is usually performing industry-level work and making decisions of your own,” Armstrong said. “Making decisions of very high importance for the first time, without supervision, can be intimidating.”
The process also requires forming a relationship with a professor, which Armstrong said can be uncharted territory for some engineering students.
“I know other students who never even ask the professor for help in a tough class,” he said.
Luckily, Armstrong already had a connection with his professor and advisor, Chemical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor Indrajit Charit.
“Jack is very enthusiastic,” Charit said, which is a good indicator of a student ready to take on the commitment required in an undergraduate research project.
Analyzing Structure, Comparing Processes
Armstrong started working in Charit’s lab in spring 2018 to help identify pertinent characteristics of Inconel 718 – a nickel alloy – including structure and hardness.
Inconel 718 functions well in extreme environments subject to high temperature and pressure, and it’s already used in jet engines, nuclear power plants and Formula One exhaust systems.
Samples of the alloy were sent from University West in Sweden, which is partnering with U of I on research into the substance. Armstrong’s research helped characterize samples manufactured in a few different ways.
One of the Inconel 718 samples was created through electron beam melting (EBM), a type of 3D printing that uses an electron beam to fuse materials together to obtain a desired shape.
Metals created through EBM are used predominantly in the medical implant market, but Armstrong said there is high demand for more of the resource in aerospace.
Though formed with a strong alloy, Armstrong found the EBM samples allowed for a slightly porous structure that compromised the material’s strength.
Other Inconel 718 samples were created through EBM but also put through hot isostatic pressing, a process Armstrong said helped remove some of the porous nature of the samples.
Working in conjunction with materials science and engineering graduate student Anumat Sittiho, Armstrong learned how to use equipment he’d never operated before to gain better insight into the material’s topographical and compositional makeup.
“Working with Anumat was not only exciting, but also super informative,” he said. “Particularly observing the scanning electron microscope perform was very interesting.”
The understanding gained from Armstrong’s completed research will be used to help build better aircraft engine turbine blades, auto racing parts and other high performance components.
Article by Kylie Smith, University Communications and Marketing
Published in October 2018.