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New Alloy Stronger Than Fe And Ti 448

SoCalChris writes "According to this article on, researchers at CalTech have discovered a new alloy that is stronger than steel and titanium, can be cast in a mold like plastic, and sharpened like glass. The first plans for the new alloy are to be used in golf clubs, baseball bats, skis, and cell phone covers."
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New Alloy Stronger Than Fe And Ti

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  • gah (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grandpa Jive ( 302600 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @02:37PM (#3833583)
    Fe is iron, not steel. Steel is an alloy, not an element.

    • "Fe is iron, not steel. Steel is an alloy, not an element."

      All I know is that "FeBook" is even worse than "TiBook".

    • Re:gah (Score:2, Funny)

      by SB5 ( 165464 )
      Steel and Iron are not the same thing, but they are used interchangably. There is a major construction profession called Ironworking, or Ironworkers. They build the steel structures and place the rebar in buildings and weld and bolt the steel together but there name title says they work with Iron, it makes no sense but why do you drive on the parkway, and park in a driveway?
      • it makes no sense but why do you drive on the parkway, and park in a driveway?

        Why then, do they call them buildings, when they are already built?
    • Fe is iron, not steel. Steel is an alloy, not an element.

      True, but the Titanium generally isn't used pure either and we just refer to it as Titanium. Close enough for Slashdot.

    • Re:gah (Score:3, Funny)

      by Rogerborg ( 306625 )

      Jeez, what are you, the accuracy police? The guy said "Fe", so he must have a black belt in psuedoscience. Don't interject with actual facts!

  • Fe != Steel (Score:2, Informative)

    by RKloti ( 517839 )
    Fe is iron, the element, not steel, which is a compound out of iron and trace amounts of carbon.
    • Stronger than Fe?

      Iron in its pure form is very malleable and not fit for making anything that needs to be strong. As the poster mentioned, carbon is necessary. Typically you'll see less than 1% by mass of carbon in the iron alloys but if you need something ultra-strong but with a degree of brittleness it is not unheard of to have 2-3% mixtures along with chromium for anti-corrosion properties.

  • Rearden Metal anyone? Better, stronger, lighter, faster, slices, dices, washs the car but held down by The Man.
  • by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @02:40PM (#3833603) Homepage
    As they say in the article it isn't anything new. They just make it a bit thicker, why is this even news?

    • by mberman ( 93546 ) <mberman AT earthling DOT net> on Saturday July 06, 2002 @02:50PM (#3833660) Homepage
      Because the difference between "less than a millimetre thick" and "arbitrarily thick, and castable without needing to be machined afterwards" is huge. Also, the science behind the "making it a bit thicker" is nontrivial. The process behind the old-style, which produces films, is totally different than the process behind this new one. It's not like making a golf club is anything like making a really thick film. This is old news in that the research was done in 1992, but it's new news because it's finally beginning to be pushed in the industry, where we'll actually see any benefits from it.
    • They make 'it' a bit thicker? I think you need to read the article again. Metals traditionally have been able to be strengthened via compression after cooling (forcing the atoms out of alignment) as in cold-pressed steel, or via cooling the metal quickly (as the article states, not allowing the crystalline matrix to form). This is new because the alloy inherently cools in a 'jumbled' state. Yes, it's thicker than before, but it's not the same alloy that is thicker, it's an entirely new alloy.
    • I had not heard of it before.

      Therefore, it was news to me, and I can now go read about it, whereas before, I would not have.

      Justification enough.
    • The company attempting to commercialize this needs as much hype as they can get, since they don't seem to have any substantial sales, and are very likely funded by (or will be funded by) VC's and other investors.

      Getting an article like this in the press is really just fodder for investors, and possibly future customers. Objective news, it's not - this is just an advertisement for the commercial outfit.
    • yes, and in other news Ford has made a new mustang that can go 3000mph while getting 400mpg. It's not news, because it's just a bit faster, and a bit more efficient than last year's mustang.
    • Because one day it will be used in a car frame in which you will be sitting in, and will not only make the car more fuel efficient, due to weight, it will enable you to survive an accident you would not otherwise.
      • Steel isn't used because it's strong. In the scope of things it's not. It and other metals are used because they are tough. Very tough. I have a suspicion from whats written in the article that this super-metal isn't. That combined with the beryllium and a bunch of people whacking golf balls would make me wonder if you're going to get a lot of very small metal flakes dusting gold courses. And beryllium isn't a happy thing to get in organisms.

        No one wants to drive a car that shatters into a cloud of possibly toxic dust. Well except maybe palestinians.

        And to beat out DU it'll have to be self-sharpening. Which it may well be.
        • And to beat out DU it'll have to be self-sharpening. Which it may well be.

          Ideally it is self sharpening. Because it's amorphous it has no preferential shear planes, so it always shears at 45 degrees, making it effectively self sharpening. At least in theory that's what it does. I work with a guy working on it and he explained to me that this "self sharpening" stuff is really theoretical because they can't really make large enough samples easily to test with.

          Mr. Spey
      • We could also make the car out of carbon fiber.

        Big downside to this is cost, and they already use the flakes or ribbons of "liquid metal" in composite materials.
  • It is only a matter of time now before we see some army start using bullets made out of this stuff. If the bullets are that sharp then they will have amazing piercing potential.

    I am no combat expert (nor have I ever been in combat or weapons design) but I would expect that snipers would love these things. A non-explosive but very pointy bullet could be very useful for piercing armoured vehicles with hand-held weapons.

    • Re:only time ... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by peteypooh ( 465922 )
      I've studied some ballisitics... these days, most armored vehicles would not be affected by the 'sharpness' of a bullet (assuming a kinetic-energy based round). Rather, factors like it's length-to-width ratio and material density play a much bigger role. Under the velocities we are talking about for a kinetic-energy round, the round 'melts' as it hits the armor and effectively tries to bore through it (and spew molten metal to the inside, injuring occupants and equipment, and maybe setting some ammo or fuel ablaze.)
      • Field Expedient (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rjh ( 40933 )
        In the military, "field expedient" is slang for "ugly hack that works surprisingly well". That said... during WW1 and WW2, the German armed forces didn't have anywhere near enough heavy machineguns to take on tanks. So the infantry made field expedient antitank rifles by taking 8mm ammunition (a very powerful round--at the turn of the century some people used them to hunt elephants), removing the bullet and then reseating the bullet, reversed, so that the blunt face would strike first. It gave the bullet the same effect as a metal die-punch; it punched neat, clean holes in steel.

        Moral of the story: "pointiness" has never been a major issue with armor-piercing ammo. It's all about the sectional density.
    • actually, snipers like soft and squishy bullets, because while they make a small hole on one side of the target, they make a very large hole on the other side.

      Additionally, the article states that the metal doesn't do well with exposure to heat, so use in firearms seems less than ideal.

      • "Additionally, the article states that the metal doesn't do well with exposure to heat, so use in firearms seems less than ideal."

        Um, the article says that these could replace uranium tank shells.

        • They use uranium, due to its large mass. The weight /size ratio of a bullet is very important if you want it to go far. You'd be much better off shooting an ounce of lead than an ounce of feathers.

          And the softer the bullet is, the better for maximum damage. Hardness will give you maximum penetration, but it will only make a tiny hole. If snipers used a hardened steel bullet, they might as well toss syringes at the victim.
    • Actually, probably not.

      Armor piercing is great for some applications. Most anti-personell weapons, however, don't want armor piercing. An armor piercing round from even a moderate velocity weapon will go all the way through a human, doing relatively minimal damage. If you want to cause damage, what you want are soft bullets that expand when they hit soft stuff. If they expand, they do more damage, and cavitation effects are worse. This is why hollow points exist. This is why bullets are made of lead, not steel. You're better off if you're hit with an armor piercing round.

      Nato 5.56mm rounds (M-16 rounds, .22 cal) are designed to tumble very early. They do a massive amount of damage for a small round, because they are designed to tumble very early upon hitting the body, split in two, and produce some massive cavitation. Despite this, the 5.56 doesn't kill as fast as the 7.62 used by the M1 Garand or the AK-47. This is on purpose. The US small arms tactic is to prefer wounding over killing. This isn't because of some noble humanitarian ideal; the military figured out that one wounded soldier takes three other soldiers out of combat just to take care of the 1 wounded person. Wounded people are much more expensive to take care of than dead people.

      In any case, all other things being equal, you'd be better off getting hit by a Liquid Metal bullet than most of the other options. You'd have a better chance of surviving, if you got to a hospital.

      • Wow, I did not know there were so many combat/ballistics experts on slashdot!!

        Clearly my original post about armour piercing technology and snipers and such came to wrong conclusions. Thank you for the in-depth information!!

      • Read Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down for a good account of NATO SS109 ammunition (5.56mm semi-armor-piercing) used against human beings. At short ranges, such as the Rangers had in Mogadishu, the rounds punch very small, clean holes in targets--there were many incidents where an AK-wielding Somali had to be hit five or six times with SS109 before he was incapacitated, compared to the one-shot-anywhere-in-the-body that the Delta Force snipers enjoyed with their 7.62mm rifles.
  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @02:44PM (#3833625) Journal
    The first plans for the new alloy are to be used in golf clubs, baseball bats, skis, and cell phone covers
    Truly a magnificent discovery that will bring untold benefits to the human race!

    But seriously, this looks very interesting, I imagine car and aircraft manufacturers could use a metal such as this. A lot depend on the cost to make and machine it though.
    • If you had read the article, you'd have learned that this new alloy can be cast like plastic. It doesn't shrink on cooling, so you can cast any shape with up to 1 micron of accuracy, thus removing the need for machining.
    • As it is mentioned in the article, the first (Bats, Golf Clubs, Cell Phones) are uses that pose no real risks to anyone. As they say in the article, if they screw up a golf club, a customer gets a refund. If they screw up an airplane however, someone is dead, and the company will quite probably be held liable.

      Being sued for the failure of a critical airplane part is not going to enhance shareholder value.

  • Fatigue strength? (Score:5, Informative)

    by peteypooh ( 465922 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @02:45PM (#3833630)
    The article mentions 'twice as strong as steel and titanium', yet does not quote which 'strength' this refers to (or gives any real objective data). I suspect it might have high tensile strength (hard to break by pulling it apart)...

    But materials like this tend also to be brittle, and do not do well in other kinds of loading. Take 'fatigue' loading, for instance. This measures how well it holds up to repeated loads, such as crankshaft in a car. Materials with uncrystalline structures not only tend to fail quickly under repeated loads, but also tend to fell catastrophically (breaking in two, instead of gradually bending).

    The article doesn't give enough info to verify this - just my thoughts. In material science, you generally have to make a compromise - in this case, tensile strength against fatigue life.
    • I was thinking of this too, generally the harder something is, the more brittle it becomes. Glass e.g. is really hard but obviously brittle. I think the catch is that this relation only holds in cyrstalline materials. Imagine those fancy bricks which have interlocks and such to allow easy assembly without mortar. Now if the internal structure of this alloy is such that you have all of these irregular fragments all intertwined then it would be nearly impossible to shear the piece apart. It would be more akin to paper where when you rip it, you end with a jagged edge since there is no crystalline faults in the material.

      I guess what would be the decisive factor for this alloy is what happens to those fragments as they break. Do they rejoin? Does the low melting temperature aid in this aspect by making it easier to rejoin? Or does it worsen the effect exponentially?

      Personally I wonder what would happen if you made a skelton for your desired object using casting techniques with good steel, and then cast this liquid metal alloy around it.


    • Re:Fatigue strength? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ondo ( 187980 )
      As someone else already pointed out, []has more info - it states that it is yield strength that is twice as high as conventional titanium alloys, and mentions fatigue resistance as one thing that an alloy can be tailored for.
    • Re:Fatigue strength? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Strange ( 95579 )
      Check our the technology [] section of their website. Towards the bottom they site excellent fatigue resistance. And the material is more elastic than Ti. At first glance of the properties I would have thought it was a metal-plastic matrix.
    • The article mentions 'twice as strong as steel and titanium', yet does not quote which 'strength' this refers to (or gives any real objective data). I suspect it might have high tensile strength (hard to break by pulling it apart)...

      I would guess this is what they are talking about, but it sounded like a press release to me. From the talk it sounded as if they were comparing it to the strength of multicrystaline cast steel, which isn't the strongest steel. Is it less ductile and/or stronger than single crystal steel object, does it cost less to produce?

      Steel already has a low melting point, I'm guessing you wouldn't want to make a frying pan out of this stuff...

      Is it toxic?

      Not that I expect any research in "technical journalism" but it really seems like an entirely hollow piece.
  • Golf might be cool, I guess, but I want armor! No rust, strong, light weight, easily castable. Sounds like a great way to make armor plating, like in a Stormtrooper suit for real life or something. That Colonial Marine armor was cool too. I got to see a set at a Planet Hollywood once. I always wanted a set of that, for no real good reason at all. But I digress...


  • It may be stong, and it seems to be able to be tooled razor thin straight from the mold, but how practical is it to work with? You don't see many scalpels or tools being made from titanium currently, or even cell phone cases for that matter. The costs seems to be the prohibiting factor, but is that really it? I mean, if you could make the same strength/quality object for 1/10 the material, then you can have up to 10x the materials cost and still be doing well.
  • Researchers reverse engineered the alloy from a mysterious robotic arm found in a manufacturing plant.
    • Researchers reverse engineered the alloy from a mysterious robotic arm found in a manufacturing plant.

      Also, in unrelated news. Bill Gates had a chip implanted in his head. On his way to surgery he was heard saying "I'll be back".
  • because nobody ever reads the articles anyway:

    "Much like glass, Liquidmetal softens when heated -- the earliest alloy at about 750 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, steel becomes malleable at about 2,100 degrees.
    Cost also limits Liquidmetal. The raw materials run at $10 to $15 a pound, about as much as titanium, while aluminum costs about 50 cents a pound.

    The heat-resistance property might make it not such a good replacement for titanium in space industry.
    • Yes, still, it might be a replacement for aluminum in some aerospace usages. After all, aluminum loses temper at ~750 F too, and this alloy is supposed to be stronger below that- mind you they didn't quote its strength/weight ratio which is the most critical issue in aerospace; I'm assuming it isn't 3x heavier or something.
  • Hazardous? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhines ( 82154 ) <> on Saturday July 06, 2002 @03:09PM (#3833760) Homepage
    The alloy contains beryllium, a particularly toxic metal, requiring special handling.

    Does this make this alloy hazardous as well?
    • by Kredal ( 566494 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @03:14PM (#3833780) Homepage Journal
      Sure, just like salt (sodium and chlorine) will kill you if you breathe it, and water (hydrogen and oxygen) is highly flammable.

      • Would you pour Clorox on your french fries?
  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by xinit ( 6477 ) <> on Saturday July 06, 2002 @03:28PM (#3833836) Homepage
    Now people will be able to sharpen their cellphones and use them as weapons directly, rather than having to use them as only part of the main weapon that is their SUV...
  • by tapped_spine ( 590735 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @03:48PM (#3833915)
    Liquid metal and random walkers in one day... kinda like Terminator2? or maybe Cartman's trapper keeper...
  • by Fixer ( 35500 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @04:12PM (#3834016) Homepage Journal
    A Foundry in every kitchen [] combined with this new metal which can be formed and cast at low tempratures.

    So, I can now make highly accurate metal parts in my home with zero machining or finishing stages.

    Combine that with a computer controlled mill to make the wax images for the ceramic molds, and I can now build anything that the properties of the metal will support.

    Technology kicks so much ass. And marketing-speak sucks donkey nuts.. what ARE the properties of this metal? How thick does it have to be to be used as a gun-barrel? Rigidity? mmm.. sigh.

  • by Alceste ( 138400 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @04:13PM (#3834021)
    This isn't going to replace structural metals any time soon. How do I know? I did dynamic planar compressive strain experiments and ABAQUS on this stuff and composites with this as the matrix for my senior thesis.

    Being a metallic glass, it has all sorts of crazy properites, as mentioned in the articles, but when it reaches the yeild strength it shatters (at least in non-composite form).

    Also, because it is a metallic glass, it is inherently a meta-stable solid.... metals usually have relatively simple crystal structures, and thusly crystalize quickly with relatively small undercooling. The clever trick with this stuff is that it's a mix of four or five metallic elements that have a large span of atomic radii (this stuff is Zr-Ni-Cu-Ti-Be, various weightings of each, usually the Ni=Cu=Ti). Anyhow, when it finally does crystallize, whether due to heat, fatigue or constant strain, it forms a pretty complex crystal structure (I don't recall which one offhand) that allows very little motion of dislocations. Thus, it's super brittle when in it's thermodynamically stable state. Moreover, even with this clever alloying, it still requires high cooling rates to avoid crystallization from the melt, and is thusly hard to cast into large ingots.

    Thus, whether it takes too hard an impact (can never be a tooling metal or knife, in pure form) or is under strain for too long (can never ever be a structural metal - too flaw sensitive in pure form and too expensive to process and machine in composite form) it will fail catastrophically.

    Basically, this means it's pretty useless for most applications metals are required for (due to lack of crystal structure it's also a poor heat conductor - sorry overclockers). And because it is opaque, it can't be used for traditional glass applications. Liquid Metal has been around for a while trying to push the golf clubs, for at least three years, more like four or five, so I'm not sure what the sudden attention is for. We ran a back of the evelope calculation in my research group: Say you're on the links, and you mis-strike the ball, and hit a large rock in the ground with a non-composite liquidmetal club... basically you'll shatter the face of the head (only the face is amorphous due to process/cost/strength issues), sending shrapnel flying into your ankle. Yum.

    Still, from a physics perspective, this stuff is really interesting due to its completely artificial nature (you'll never find anything close to this in nature) and odd mechanical properties (it's the metallic version of flubber). Commericially, in bulk form, I'd say they should shy away from structural applications and perhaps try transformers, where the thin film versions of amorphous metals have significant gains over silicon.
  • Another use (Score:2, Informative)

    by WiggyWack ( 88258 )
    And don't forget Apple's gonna make their next laptop out of it!
  • So many questions... (Score:5, Informative)

    by BlueFall ( 141123 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @04:19PM (#3834053)
    There are so many questions being asked here about details... The company website [] has much more information [] than this article. Go to the source.
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @05:20PM (#3834226)
    " a new alloy that is stronger than steel and titanium"

    By mass or by volume? Stronger with reguards to tension, compression, or shear? Or some combination?

    Heck, I can think of a building material that is more easily molded than either of those two metals and is actually stronger in many ways. It's called concrete. Just don't try to put it under tension or shear...
  • "Liquidmetal Technologies' first product was golf club heads, because of another exotic property of the metal: it transfers more of the club's energy to the ball than steel or titanium, at least in theory.
    transfers energy well? as in kenetic energy?? the same kind a cell phone gains as it is dropped? and they want to make CELL PHONE CASES out of the stuff??

    what good is this for cell phone cases if it doesn't break when you drop it, but garuntees the death of the LC Display inside it???
  • Metglass (Score:3, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday July 06, 2002 @08:46PM (#3834922)
    Metallic glasses (trademark MetGlass) were invented over 30 years ago by AlliedSignal researchers and have been used for a wide range of industrial applications since. It is particularly important because of magnetic properties in transformers etc. I was with Allied when they first looked at the razor blade application - the razor companies didn't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole because the blades were so durable that you would only need one a year.

    BTW, the original patents have long ago expired so that anyone can work with metallic glasses.

    What this guy did was develop an alloy that could be cooled into parts of thicker cross section than was previously possible.

  • Bicycle Frame (Score:2, Interesting)

    This would be great for bicycle frames, especially if it can be more easily handled than titanium.

    My hope is that it means that I can go really fast without losing weight. Because, as we all know, getting a really light bicycle means that one can be as fat as one likes and go fast.

    Best wishes, Bob
  • Is it strong enough to handle the slash-dot effect?

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel