Whilst metal is incredibly tough, there have always been ways to cut it, with the advent of battery power tools such as grinders and saws, cutting through something like a hardened steel lock is relatively simple.
That’s where scientists and researchers from both Durham, UK, and Hannover, Germany come in. They have developed a material that cannot be cut or drilled, thanks to complex molecular mechanisms built into the material.
What is The First Uncuttable Metal Made From?
Proteus, the world’s first uncuttable metal is made from cellular aluminum, with ceramic spheres ingrained into the material. Not only is this material resistant to cutting but is also much lighter than steel.
The inventors claim the material was inspired by nature, mimicking the way a type of marine snail protects itself. Their shells comprise an almost woven-like ‘fabric’, interlaced with hard tiles. Allowing them to be protected from the sharp teeth of predators, but also not crack open when crushed in the jaws of larger animals.
Titanium is used to create a reaction in the aluminum when heated, this reaction creates a huge amount of gas bubbles, expanding the material into a foam-like block. Before being heated the ceramic balls are layered with the other alloying elements, permanently cementing them inside the material.
How Does It Work?
Whilst aluminum is relatively soft, and can easily be cut, ceramic materials are the opposite, being incredibly hard but brittle. The main structure of the material is formed to allow deformation, preventing it from cracking.
When cut or drilled into, the material deforms, until the cutting edge of the tool meets the ceramic. Being harder than most other materials, the ceramic will resist abrasion or cutting extremely well.
If the ceramic spheres do break, the fragments continue to abrade the imposing tool, damaging the cutting edge further, this causes the tool to heat up, promoting faster wear and even deterioration of the material’s hardness in the case of metal drill bits.
Because the substructure of the material is tough but semi-malleable, the material resists impact extremely well, something that ceramic alone is poor at, the two create the perfect resistance from cutting edges and ballistic impacts.
What Could It Be Used For?
The immediate uses for Proteus are anti-theft devices such as locks, chains and enclosures that cannot be cut with any tool. This would be a much needed improvement over current lock and chain technology, which can almost always be cut in seconds with an angle grinder.
Other possibilities include defense and protection in personal and vehicular applications. A lighter alternative to steel armor plating could revolutionize armored vehicles, allowing them to be much lighter, easier to move around and even better at resisting attack from projectiles.
What are some downsides of Proteus?
Currently, the material is difficult to produce and is very costly. Multiple materials including aluminum, titanium and ceramic are involved in the complex manufacturing process, all of which are expensive to pre-process and use.
Because of its incredible resistance to cutting and drilling, manufacturing usable shapes and parts needs to be done before the material is formed, similar to how casting or forging creates a part with the material still molten or at least very hot.
This currently limits the use of Proteus but with the potential we can see, these problems may be solved in the near future
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