Friday, April 29, 2011

The Future of Glass

Just a short little post to fill in your day.  I just watch a video produced by Corning, a major ceramics and glass company, called "A Day Made of Glass."  In this video our world in the not to distant future is envisioned as one giant touch screen courtesy of Corning glass.  Corning shows the application of their advance glasses for cooking to teleconferencing and areas in between.  Although this video is a major PR push to show the advancements Corning is making in the industry it's still pretty cool.  Just look for yourself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lighter Than Air

While looking around for a ceramic material to blog about I came across something called aerogel.  Aerogel, also known as frozen smoke, solid smoke, and solid air, is an extremely porous solid materials that kinda feels like Styrofoam.  Aerogel is so porous you can actually see right through some types.  It is the lightest recorded solid on Earth with some weighing only 3 times more than air.

Now why does this material matter?  It matters because despite its low weight and density aerogel can support in compression 4000 times it weight.  That's like supporting the weight of a car on your back.  Since aerogel is so light and porous it makes an excelling heat and electrical conductor.  The huge gaps of air inside its structure makes it difficult for heat to move through it.  However like most ceramics it still very brittle.  Just watch this intro video about aerogels.

That has gotta be hot?  No, not really.
Aerogels are commonly made out of materials like silica, carbon, or alumina.  To make aerogel the ceramic material is mixed together in a liquid solution made of alcohol and other things with long complicated names.  When these materials are added together they create a complex interlinked microstructure that stops the flow liquid.  When the liquid stops moving this material is call a gel.  Now the key to making a good aerogel is how liquid is removed.  By allowing liquid to normally evaporate form the gel it is possible that the movement of liquid out destroys part of the microstructure.  To avoid this aerogel is often placed in high pressure high temperature environments that evaporates the liquid in it place, thus preserving the microstructure.

Aerogels are currently being used in areas like window insulation.  NASA has a number of uses aerogel including insulation in the Mars Rover and spacesuits.  NASA also used aerogels to trap space dust on the Stardust spacecraft.  Space particles normally vaporize when the contact solid materials.  Companies like Dunlop are even using them in tennis rackets.

If you want to know more about aerogels I found this amazing blog with all kinds of information.  The blog is called ""

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Can See Clearly Now

The military is looking for new window and dome materials to replace the current multilayer glass currently used.  This material need to be cheap to produce and able to withstand erosion in high speed environments.  In addition this material needs to be lightweight, with no visual distortion and needs to be compatible with current night vision technology.

Now I know I've have previously spoken about transparent ceramic, but I recently discover a couple of papers written by one of my professor detailing his work in transparent spinel for applications in military defense.

Transparent spinel is actually a type of spinel called Magnesium aluminate spinel (MgAl2O4).  The reason it is commonly referred to as transparent spinel is most spinel material is not actually transparent.  Thanks to certain processing steps this spinel does become transparent.  To create transparent spinel the spinel power is mixed with LiF (Lithium Fluoride) to aid in uniform sintering.  The mix is placed in a hot press at 1550°C for 2 hours and under 35 MPa of pressure.  The spinel is then cut and polished with diamonds to reveal and transparent material.

Transparent spinel offers multi-hit protection for vehicles.  Spinel offers comparable protection to the current glass based armor while reducing the weight and thickness by about half.  Just watch this video of an actual ballistic test of spinel vs. ballistic glass as seeing is believing.

It also has an advantage compared to AlON and sapphire which are also considered for use in transparent armor applications since it is processed at lower temperatures reducing the overall cost of production.

I think it really cool that our teachers are researching this kind of material on our campus.  Keep up the good work Dr. Reimanis.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Idea Takes Form

The academic year is quickly reaching its end and with that comes the end of my senior project.  If you are a frequent reader of this blog you know that a group of students and myself are designing a bulletproof mug.  This mug is going to be entered in a contest against mug designed by students from colleges and universities around the nation.  Well now is the time to reveal the final mug design.

Ta Da!!!
Now you're probably saying, "What kind of stupid mug is that?  How would I even drink from that thing?"  Both are very valid questions, but you have to remember the purpose of the mug.  It is not meant to hold your morning coffee but to survive when dropped on the floor.  The mug had to be designed within specific criteria found here on Keramos's website.  The most important rules are:

1. Mugs must be able to contain at least 500 ml and not more than 625 ml of liquid, and be useable for drinking purposes. Mugs must not decompose when they contain a liquid.

2.  All mugs must have a serviceable handle(s) which permits gripping and retaining a mug filled with at least 500 ml of liquid.

3.  Mugs must be made entirely from ceramic or glass materials, and may not contain any metal, plastic, paint, organics, or nonceramic materials.

Knowing these requirement I think we designed an awesome mug, I may be a little bias.  Now I can't wait until we finish dropping these things so I can upload a video of me throwing my mug to the ground.  Until then here's a link of a guy that maybe shouldn't throw so many thing to ground.

Disclaimer:  This video has nothing to do with ceramics or science communication but whenever I think about the mug drop contest this video pops in my head.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Art in Ceramics

If you ever worked in a scientific lab you have probably used a crucible or beaker.  I bet you didn't know that these things are considered art.  That's right I just found out that the Denver Art Museum is going to open up an exhibit revolved around lab equipment and tools made by CoorsTek.  Don't believe just check out this link.  Now I myself am a little skeptical of ceramic lab ware as art but hey this is very unique form of science communication.  This exhibits is going to expose a new audience of people to the scientific aspect of ceramics.  So mark your calenders for June 11.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Checking Out the Competition

If you been keeping up with this blog you'll know that me and a couple of other students are designing a mug from Keramos's National Mug Drop Contest in October.  So I thought I'd take the time and show you some videos of other schools mugs that have competed in the past.

From what I've seen it looks like we've got nothing to worry about from OSU but we may have to watch out for the University of Washington.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ceramics the Final Frontier

The Space Shuttle first flew in 1981 and is the current entering its last phase of operation. These vehicles were designed to be reusable, meaning they had to be able to enter and exit the Earth’s atmosphere multiple times. All previous space exploration vehicles were one uses devices. One of the main reasons Space Shuttles can safely exit and enter the atmosphere is the ceramic tiles that cover up most of the shuttle’s exterior surfaces.

Early space exploration utilized different means to maintain safe temperature control. During the Mercury Space Program the spacecraft used a heat sink that would safely absorb and dissipate the heat generated by reentry. The Apollo Space Program spacecrafts utilized an ablative shield place on the bottom of the spacecraft to protect the vehicle during reentry. Ablative shield is a cover made of materials that will char and vaporize off the surface of the spacecraft when placed under extreme heat and pressure, thus protecting the spacecraft. Although these materials were effective in protecting the spacecraft they were only good once meaning a whole new spacecraft had to be design for another mission.

The materials currently being used to protect the space shuttles are made up of thousands of ceramic tiles strategically placed throughout the exterior. Now you’re probably wondering how the material that makes up your tea set, fine china, and pottery could possible protect a spacecraft during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. We have all done it before, dropped a plate and watch as it shattered into a million pieces. Not exactly what we want to happen in a material that determines whether our astronauts live or die. So, why would we use this kind of material when we have strong metals like steel, aluminum, and even titanium to build our spacecraft? The reason is heat.

When a Space Shuttle is reentering the atmosphere its surface temperature can range from 315 to 1465 degrees Celsius. The melting point of aluminum, which is the primary material that makes up a Space Shuttle’s structure, melts at 660 degrees Celsius. So making a spacecraft that melts as it enters the atmosphere is probably not what you want to do. Another property that ceramics have is their heat insulation ability. As seen in the video below a space shuttle tile can have a lit blow torch placed directly on its surface burning away and after it is removed a few seconds later can be held in your hand.

In conclusion the space shuttle exterior is comprised of thousands of ceramic tiles came from a necessity to have a reusable space exploration vehicle. The ceramic tiles give the Space Shuttle greater thermal shielding and can withstand the extremely high reentry temperatures.  I'd like to think that ceramics have served the shuttle and space exploration admirably.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Instructional Video

Slip casting is a type of ceramic processing.  It is also the method I'm using to create bulletproof mugs.  So I thought it would be good idea to make a video on how to make a 2 piece plaster mold.  It goes by a little quick so if you have any question about what happened during the process feel free to write it in the comment so I can answer them.  I hope you enjoy the video.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What the Heck is a Ceramic Anyhow?

Well to be honest I can't answer that question.  At least not after the lecture I heard last night.  I was attending an awards dinner that honors a scientist or engineer for their contribution to the field of the metallurgy and material science.  The honoree then gives a presentation about his related field.  This years honoree is an expert in the field of ceramic engineering.  He received his Sc.D. in ceramic engineering from MIT, was the President of the American Ceramic Society, holds years of experience in industry and government research, and is also a former professor of the Colorado School of Mines.  All this experience and accomplishment could not save this man's presentation from falling into the category of bad science communication.

This purpose of this presentation was to explain what ceramics are and their advancement in the field of lighting.  I had high hopes for this talk because as you may know I really enjoy the field of ceramics.  When the lecture began the room of over hundred nicely dressed people gave their undivided attention.  However that interest and attention quickly vanished once the presentation started.  Throughout the presentation the speaker just read the slide in a monotonic voice.  While reading the slide he would use his laser pointer to underline what he reading further distracting me the actual content of his presentation.

As I looked around the room I could see the same look on everybody's face, BOREDOM.  This is an audience full of ceramist, metallurgist, CSM faculty and MME students so this audience has some background in the field.  I actually saw somebody fall asleep with his mouth wide open.  I looked over to somebody at my table and had to say "I promise ceramics are not this boring."  When it was finally over 45 minutes later, which felt like hours the question he tried to answer at the beginning of his presentation, "What the heck is a ceramic anyhow?" was one of the first questions asked by the audience.  This showed me how bad the presentation really was.

In my Science Communication class we recently had a guest lecturer discuss the trademarks of a bad presentation.  In his presentation I kid you not he made every mistake.

I only hope I can learn from this example of poor science communication so I can communicate better in

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bigger, is it Really Better?

Right now the electricity generation come from centralized power plants.  These plants are enormous, expensive to build, maintain, and produce large amount of waste.

Here are some quick examples of this.  Coal power plants produce around 45% of the electricity in the US.  The fuel necessary to run these plants is cheap and abundant.  However, these plants are only between 25-33% efficient at converting this fuel to energy while producing nearly 41% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US.  Nuclear power is another large scale power generation system that is used.  Nuclear power can be used to efficiently create clean energy.  It accounts for roughly 13-14% of the worlds electricity.  It is vastly more effiecent are create energy then combustion reactions.  Nuclear power still is not without its drawbacks.  Disposal of nuclear waste in the US still has not been solved with place arguing where and how to store it.  The potential for a disaster affecting large areas is always around as scene in Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.  So I was wondering don't we have something else, maybe something a little smaller?  That's were Solid-oxide fuel cells come in.

First lets discuss what a fuel cell is.  Fuel cells are a devices that acts like a factories that take in fuel (normally hydrogen) and convert it into electrical energy.  They are similar to combustion engine in this way.  Fuel cells are different because they have little to no moving parts meaning they do not need to expend extra energy to rotate a gear or pumps reducing the chance of mechanical failure.  Thanks to the way fuel cell convert fuel to energy there is very little emissions.  Fuel cells can easily vary in size and materials.  Solid-oxide fuel cells or SOFCs is a type of fuel cells that use ceramics as a means of conducting electricity.  Ceramics are used in fuel cell because they offer structural stability and fuel flexibility.  To achieve this fuel flexibility SOFCs must be operated at temperatures greater than 600°C.  Right now a company called Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited, based in Melborne, Australia, is developing a washing machine sized SOFCs that can power individual homes using natural gas.

BlueGen is the name of the small scale generator Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited is trying to market.  This device is currently 60% efficient at converting natural gas to electricity.  The BlueGen produces about 12500 kilowatts hours of electricity a year.  This is around twice as much as electricity consumed by the average Australian home.  Since the BlueGen is a SOFC heat is a byproduct.  With a special attachment the off heat can be used to warm water for the household.  Another advantage to the BlueGen is if one unit fails only one household is affect reducing the chance major harm.  This technology is looking so promising Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited has been selected as a finalist in DuPont Australia &New Zealand Innovation Awards recognizing the commercialization of outstanding science and technology.

With so many advantages to SOFCs I don't know why there use would spread throughout the world.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Get Real

I don't know about you but I'm a pretty big fan of the whole Star Trek series.  Star Trek is show that uses advance technology and talks about what could happen.  Most of the technology they use seems unrealistic and fantastic, however every once and a while they show something that actually possible.  The link below leads to a scene from "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

If you didn't actually watch the video I'll sum it up for you nice and quick.  The Star Fleet offices from the future need to design a water tank large enough to carry two humpback whales back to the future to stop the destruction of Earth.  However they do not have the means to buy the materials necessary to construct such a tank.  To get the supplies needed the characters give the owner of Plexicorp the ground breaking formula to create transparent aluminum.  This material is so strong it would take six inches of traditional plexiglas to match the strength of just one of transparent aluminum.

In the real world a ceramic material called aluminium oxynitride or AlON share many of the same features of transparent aluminum.  AION belongs to a group of materials called transparent ceramics.  AlON is a stronge, clear, hard material that is often used in vehicle armor applications because it offers greater field of vision without a loss in protection.  AlON was actually tested against a .50 caliber round fired from a sniper rifle and survived. 

If you would like to learn more about transparent aluminum armors a great website to checkout is "How Stuff Work."  This article discusses the how its made, why it works and were the transparent ceramics/armor field is going.