A joint team from the University of Missouri-Rolla and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will receive $3 million over the next three years from the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate the science behind a diamond coating technique.
First developed in the mid-1990s by Michigan-based QCC, Inc., the technique involves using three high-powered lasers to vaporize a thin layer as the lasers are scanned across steel and other similar materials. This creates an electrically charged, superheated plasma of iron atoms that bond to the surface as diamond and diamond-like carbon. While researchers know the process makes surfaces stronger, lighter and more resistant to corrosion or abrasion, they don’t fully understand why.
The technology has preceded the science, says team leader Dr. Yongfeng Lu, associate professor of engineering at UNL. The joint research team will attempt to figure out how the process works so that it can be improved or extended to other material systems.
"If we can understand the science of the phenomenon, and understand the principles behind it, we can use it for other materials besides diamonds," adds Lu.
The investigators will customize the coating technique using three laser systems: a resonance absorption laser, a UV laser, and a controlled plasma cooling and coating formation laser. The team will work to establish the knowledge of the physics behind the process and develop a way to do this in "open atmosphere" rather than a vacuum, allowing coatings to be deposited on items like ships or airplanes. The team will test this system both theoretically, using computer models, and experimentally using the lasers.
Dr. Hai-Lung Tsai, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UMR, will lead UMR’s efforts on campus in one of the nation’s most advanced laser-research facilities. Working with Tsai at UMR are Dr. Lan Jiang, assistant research professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Dr. Matthew O’Keefe, associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Dr. Robert Schwartz, professor of materials science and engineering.
The award, one of 33 awarded through the defense department’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Program, will provide long-term support for research, graduate students and laboratory instrumentation.