Making metals stand up to the extreme temperatures at the business end of a rocket is no mean feat. Alloys based on nickel, molybdenum, and tungsten are the main choices right now, but materials scientists are hard at work developing alloys that retain their strength and their workability so that rocket engines can be re-used repeatedly. Qinquin Wei of Hunan University and collaborators recently published a study on a two-phase tantalum carbide alloy that may be up to the task. “At high temperatures, the layered carbide skeleton carries the load,” the researchers write in a recent paper (Sci. Adv. 2022, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo206). “At room temperature, on the other hand, the alloy layers buffer crack propagation, delay fracture, and promote plasticity.” These electron microscope images from the paper show how delicate the balance is; minute differences in composition lead to big changes in microstructure.
Credit: Science Advances
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