Researchers at North Carolina State University are examining the ways that magnesium affects radiation-tolerant materials that are often used in nuclear energy and space travel, in the hopes of devising new techniques to address the dangers.
The new technique hopes to provide real-time images of magnesium changing at the atomic scale under the pressure of radiation exposure.
Researchers focused on magnesium because of their hexagonal structure and tightly packed atoms, which is very similar in structure to many other radiation-tolerant materials like zirconium, according to the researchers, and is used in nuclear power plants. Secondly, magnesium takes much less time and energy to cause void formation, which also makes it ideal for the experiment.
Voids are potentially dangerous gaps in the material and begin at atomic level, which can cause the material to “crack or swell”.
“You couldn’t use this technique on zirconium, for example,” explained Dr Suveen Mathaudhu, the co-author of the paper and adjunct assistant professor of materials, science and engineering at NC State under the U.S. Army Research Office’s Staff Research Program. “But what we’re learning about void formation gives us insight into how radiation damages these kinds of materials,” he continued.
“In addition to any energy applications, we need to develop new radiation-tolerant materials if we want to explore deep space. This may move us one step closer to that goal.”
His colleague and co-author, and PhD student, Weizong Xu adds: “Prior to this, we knew radiation could cause voids that weaken the material, but we didn’t know how the voids formed.
“It is a new way to use an existing technology, and it allowed us to see voids forming and expanding in the material.”
The team of researchers at the university hope that they can improve the understanding void formation and thus create new material to combat the problem.