Missouri S&T investigates ceramics processing through $1.4 million project

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On June 22, 2022

Photo of Dr. Fahrenholtz in dark green shirt working with female student in light green shirt. They're both wearing blue protective gloves as they work with ceramic substances.

Dr. Bill Fahrenholtz, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of ceramic engineering at Missouri S&T, reviews processes with undergraduate student Grace Epp. Fahrenholtz and his research team are trying to achieve better consistency in ultra-high-temperature ceramics for hypersonic vehicles. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

When you order fries at McDonald’s, you expect them to taste the same in Missouri as they do in Montana. That type of consistency is what researchers at Missouri S&T are trying to achieve in ultra-high-temperature ceramics processing for hypersonic vehicles. Missouri S&T is collaborating on the project with researchers at the University of California, Davis and the University of Pittsburgh. The Air Force Office of Science and Research is funding the research through a $1.4 million grant.

“Ceramics are particularly sensitive to processing conditions,” says Dr. Bill Fahrenholtz, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of ceramic engineering at Missouri S&T. “One of the needs for this project is to understand how differences in composition or processing conditions cause differences in the final product so that we can get the same results every time.”

Fahrenholtz and colleagues at Missouri S&T have been researching ceramic materials for extreme environments for more than 20 years. He says his team’s role in the hypersonics project is to make ceramic materials and intentionally add impurities or change the microstructure and composition, alter production time or vary particle size in the ceramic powder. Fahrenholtz says the goal is not to eliminate flaws, but to understand how to produce a consistent product.

“The lead team at UC Davis will perform sophisticated microstructure characterization to see on a level of several microns how the changes we make in processing conditions affect the internal structure of the ceramic parts,” says Fahrenholtz. “They’ll use tools that allow a 3D analysis of the microstructure.”

Fahrenholtz says the team at the University of Pittsburgh will perform a statistical analysis to determine which processing factors are significant and help pinpoint the critical steps in the production process. He says the analysis will save manufacturing time and will give the Air Force a methodology that could be applied to at least all ceramic materials and perhaps a broader array of manufacturing materials.

“Collaboration is important,” says Fahrenholtz. “No one person or institution could handle this type of project. It really requires a team of people with very different skill sets.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,200 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. S&T also is home to the Kummer Institute, made possible by a $300 million gift from Fred and June Kummer. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu/.

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