Gasars – ultralight materials for the space industry. AGH UST and IMIM PAN intensify cooperation

The photo shows a room. On the right side there is a fragment of research equipment. In the middle, there are four people, three of whom (two men and one woman) cut the ribbon with scissors, which spreads in front of the equipment. In the background, on the left, there are four other people standing. There is an inscription on the wall that reads in Polish: Faculty of Foundry Engineering 70 years. All the people in the photo have their mouths and noses covered with protective masks.

A group photo in a room. There is a row of 13 people standing next to one another. Their mouths and noses are covered with protective masks. In the bottom-left corner, there is a fragment of a table covered with dark blue cloth. There are scissors, a pen, and a paper file with documents on the table.

photos by Zbigniew Sulima

The Liquid Metal Engineering Laboratory was established at the Faculty of Foundry Engineering. The opening of the new facility was accompanied by the conclusion of an agreement on cooperation between the AGH UST and the Institute of Metallurgy and Materials Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IMIN PAN).

In the new laboratory, a team of scientists from the Faculty of Foundry Engineering, headed by Professor Jerzy J. Sobczak, will be working on gasars – high-porosity metallic materials derived from the liquid state. A keen interest in the wide application of gasars has been expressed by the space industry, e.g., for constructing hulls and rocket engines.

‘Gasars, lotus-shaped structures, are a new class of materials, containing various substances that seem impossible to mix, such as the combination of metal or ceramics with gas. In our case, it is magnesium and hydrogen. These materials are remarkable; they contain up to 70% hydrogen. In addition to being ultralight, they also have a unique set of material properties. They are excellent at absorbing sounds, energy, and vibrations; in other words, they possess a high damping capacity. Moreover, they do really well with conducting higher temperatures, if they are made of ceramic materials, and, what is more, they are perfect in places where mass is the key issue, that is, in all kinds of machines moving here on Earth and in space’, highlights AGH UST gasars creator, Professor Jerzy J. Sobczak.

These light and durable materials, as distinct from metal foam, allow the increase of the durability of the elements, simultaneously reducing their mass. This is exactly the desired quality in the space, arms, and automotive industries.

‘The automotive and aviation industries aim to make the materials from which parts for various types of vehicles are made more durable and simultaneously lighter, so that the ratio of durability and density is as high as possible. And this is precisely the chief objective of innovation in the entire industry worldwide’, said Professor Jerzy J. Sobczak.

Gasars can be applied as light construction materials, radiation or kinetic energy absorbents, atomisers/mixers of fuel, or radiators. Currently, gasars find applications as filters in the chemical industry, insulin filters in medicine, parts of rockets, and rocket engines.

The photo features a hand holding a rounded shape, coloured beige. The porous structure of the material is visible. The photo was taken outside, on the left side there is a fragment of a tree; on the right side there is a building and a portion of the sky.

Photo by Anna Żmuda-Muszyńska

‘The unique properties of gasars make them a potentially perfect material for modern materials science. Combining them with other materials creates new research possibilities in the form of a synthesis of a new group of materials, the so-called hybrid gasars. Joint research efforts with China partners are planned in this field’, says Professor Jerzy J. Sobczak.

The work on gasars, which had been first studied in the 1970s in Ukraine, has been intensified in various research facilities worldwide since the beginning of the 1990s; including the USA, Germany, Japan, and China, where researchers have sought for a better and broader practical application of these materials. The creation of gasars was inspired by nature, prompting such solutions herself – wood, bone, or coral reef are characterised by their porous structure, simultaneously featuring remarkable strength-to-density ratio.

An even better understanding of gasars will be provided by the mobile stand for testing the properties of liquid metals, alloys, glasses, slags, and other substances in a wide range of melting points (in conditions ranging from high vacuum to atmospheric pressure of selected shielding gases in the range from room temperature to 2100°C).

The Liquid Metal Engineering Laboratory at the Faculty of Foundry Engineering will primarily look for new applications for metals in the broad scope of materials engineering. The research equipment will allow scientists to measure the properties of a studied material in its liquid state, as well as its reactions with solids. This facilitates the work on a better understanding of the specificity of gasars and other materials, both metal and ceramic, which can find application in aviation, motorisation, machine construction, extractive industry, and processing.

The solution was developed in collaboration with MeasLine Sp. z o.o. [LLC] and the Institute of Metallurgy and Materials Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow (IMIN PAN). Furthermore, the device developed under the supervision of Professor Jerzy J. Sobczak received a gold medal at the ITM Industry Europe 2021 trade fair in Poznań; the category was “Science for the Economy”.

The agreement between the AGH UST and IMIN PAN implies primarily joint research and development of new materials and their manufacturing technologies, with particular regard to liquid metal engineering. Additionally, the signers will apply together for financial grants for research and development from entities such as the National Science Centre, the National Centre for Research and Development, European funds, or services for the industrial sector. As part of the agreement, the partners start conducting joint research using existing research infrastructure. The fulfilment of the agreement and the joint search for new engineering materials, including a broader application of gasars, rests on the shoulders of the Faculty of Foundry Engineering.