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From the Director 2012-1


Materials and Manufacturing


Manufacturing, we are told, is the key to a robust economy. It adds value and it creates jobs. But if you are going to manufacture a magnet, a motor, a car, a computer or an airplane, one of the first things you need to do is figure out what materials you’re going to make it from.

ImageMaterials are selected for their properties (e.g. whether they are magnetic, transparent, electrically conductive, etc.); for performance factors, such as their strength-to-weight ratio; for their availability and cost; or even for purely esthetic reasons. Whatever drives the selection of a particular material, though, manufacturing cannot occur without the existence of an assured supply-chain for it. The Ames Laboratory is among the research centers that are the most consistently successful in the world at bringing advanced basic science together with manufacturing applications in the realm of materials. This kind of success in technology transfer requires many skills and capabilities, but the first of these is world-leading fundamental research.

Our work addresses the invention of new materials, the manufacture of materials, and the processes for manufacturing with these materials.

The Ames Laboratory has a proud history of inventing materials. Binary quasicrystals, magnetic zinc alloys, optical metamaterials, magnetocaloric compounds, high-temperature superconductors and topological insulators have all been invented and made in Ames Lab research projects. Perhaps our biggest hit, however, has been the invention of the lead-free solder alloy that is now the standard for the manufacture of all consumer electronic products in the world.

The Lab has an even longer history of influencing the manufacture of materials, starting out in the 1940s with our very first project – purifying uranium. We have developed the basic processing methods used to make industrial quantities of the magnetostrictive material Terfenol-D, and to make superconducting wires out of magnesium diboride. We continue this excellence in processing in our Materials Preparation Center, which is the world’s preferred provider of pure rare earths, among many other things.

Recent successes have included novel approaches to the processing of materials that will enable manufacturing of titanium parts with enormously reduced waste. Since titanium can be very expensive, and traditional manufacturing methods can result in less than 10 percent of the original material being utilized in the final product, this is an important advance. It was recently recognized with an “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” award from the Department of Energy, and is being commercialized through a new start-up company, Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies.

Read on to find out how Ames Lab research is providing the materials for a resurgence in manufacturing.