Metallic Glasses for Sporting Applications
HOUGHTON, MI - An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Michigan Tech has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study some very strange--and potentially very useful--materials.
The three-year, $760,000 Focussed Research Group grant allows the researchers to investigate several classes of advanced materials, including metallic glasses, ultra-fine-grained metals, and advanced polymers. Metallic glasses in particular have attracted attention among golfers searching for a competitive edge on the fairway. The LiquidMetal brand of clubs, which currently commands about $1,500 for a set of irons, owes its premium performance and price to metallic glass inserts in the club heads.
Unlike regular metals, metallic glass doesn't vibrate on impact, which means much more of the energy from the golfer's swing goes into the ball. The payoffs are longer drives, lower handicaps, and poorer but happier golfers. The reason metallic glass behaves this way lies in its peculiar atomic structure.
"These are weird materials," says Project Leader Dr. Walter Milligan of MTU's Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. "They appear like regular metals if you look at them with the naked eye, but if you look at their atomic structure, they look like liquids. They lack the crystal structure characteristic of metals."
So, instead of transferring energy throughout the material, all of these materials do the inanimate equivalent of taking it in the chin with every impact. "Their common link is that they do not deform uniformly and instead deform locally by a mechanical instability," Milligan says. "These instabilities are not understood and lead to a degradation in performance and lifetime of the materials." In other words, don't expect your LiquidMetal clubs to become a family heirloom.
Metallic glasses and related materials already have applications beyond sports; they are used extensively by the electronics industry in microelectronic chips. However, because they have very high strength coupled with very low density, they show great potential in other arenas, particularly aerospace. Milligan's team is investigating their properties with an eye toward potential structural engineering applications.
It's not unusual for advanced materials to get their start in sporting goods, Milligan adds, citing composite tennis rackets and titanium golf clubs. Safety is one reason: No one wants to build jet engines from unfamiliar materials. Economics is another.
New materials are expensive, and most industries aren't willing to cut their profit margins to use them. "In industry, every penny counts," Milligan says. "But sports are different. People are very willing to pay $300 for a driver so they can beat their neighbor at golf."
For more information, contact Walt Milligan at 906-487-2015 or via email: email@example.com.