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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Engineer licenses 'right stuff'

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 38 - August 10, 1995

For many years, the aerospace industry has been looking for the `right stuff' from which to build airplanes-a material that is both light and strong, such as a metal-ceramic composite. Now, Virginia Tech materials engineer Stephen L. Kampe has created a new family of composites that combines the low weight of titanium with the high strength and temperature capability of ceramics.

Last week, Ted Kohn at Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. announced that Kampe's technology has been licensed for further development by University Partners, a technology development organization based in Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center.

A roadblock to forming the needed composite has been that the temperatures and techniques required for processing metals are damaging to traditional ceramic reinforcement when incorporated within metals. Kampe, an assistant professor, overcame the hurdle by creating certain intermetallic matrix composites (IMC's) that act as reinforcements within conventional metal alloy matrices-creating a composite inside a composite, so to speak. "The IMC's are unique because they can be produced to exhibit ceramic-like strengths and properties, but are surprisingly able to retain an ability to be processed like a conventional metal," Kampe explains. The technique can be applied to many metal/IMC combinations.

University Partners will fund further IMC development work and trials by Kampe and his graduate students, working at Virginia Tech and using metal-processing facilities at Oak Ridge National Lab. The first intermetallic composites will be designed to strengthen conventional titanium and aluminum alloys.

In airplanes, the material could replace nickel and iron components in turbine engines. These materials are strong but heavy, Kampe says. "Such weight reductions can lead to huge savings in fuel costs and dramatic increases in payload and overall performance."

University Partners will also market the technology to major automotive corporations and parts producers. With the increasing importance of fuel efficiency and the government-mandated reduction in fleet emissions, the automotive industry is also looking for stronger lightweight materials, Kampe says.