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May 5, 2014

Microwaves heating up ultra-high-temperature (UHT) ceramics industry

New technology could drive down the cost and time of making UHT ceramics

A key to building denser, stronger materials that won't fail or fracture under extreme conditions is the manufacture of ultra-high-temperature, or UHT, ceramics. UHT ceramics can withstand highly extreme conditions, such as the heat coming out of a rocket as it's launching into space.

With support from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, materials scientist Holly Shulman and her team at a company called Ceralink are developing UHT ceramics using a new method that harnesses the power of microwaves.

The machines they use to make the UHT ceramics still fire up to high temperatures. But, rather than combining the heat with high pressure to make the material super hard and strong, they use microwave assist technology (MAT) furnaces. It's a process called 'enhanced diffusion. The goal is to make the industrial manufacture of high quality UHT ceramic parts faster and cheaper.

The work in this episode was support by NSF award #1127538, SBIR Phase II: Ultra High Temperature Microwave Processing of Ceramics.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.