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Ohio State, Lehigh University awarded $3M to develop superalloys as part of U.S. Army research project


Ohio State’s Center for the Accelerated Maturation of Materials (CAMM) will play a key role in developing novel structural materials for high-strength applications as part of a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Research Lab (ARL).

Lehigh University, project lead and home of the Nano/Human Interfaces (NHI) Presidential Initiative, is partnering with Ohio State on the “Lightweight High Entropy Alloy Discovery (LHEAD)” initiative. Congress authorized $3 million to support the effort, with the potential for additional funding of up to $25 million over five years.

LHEAD includes three basic science projects that seek to address the critical need for longer-lasting and more resilient alternative structural materials for use in advanced material systems such as hypersonic missiles. The first two projects aim to develop new generations of superalloys—high-strength materials that can function at extreme temperatures—and leverage recent advancements in solid-state materials processing to develop high-entropy metallic alloys for improved performance. The team also will explore powder-based material processing, phase transformation pathways, atomic-resolution characterization, in-situ high-throughput mechanical testing, and additive manufacturing.

The third project will support the first two by providing researchers with unique resources to improve their communication, problem solving, and collaborative, remote use of instruments at Ohio State’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis and Lehigh’s NHI Laboratory.

“These projects launch an exciting research partnership between Ohio State and Lehigh,” said Ayanna Howard, dean of Ohio State’s College of Engineering.

photo of Martin Harmer, Lehigh University
Martin Harmer
Hamish Fraser, CEMAS Department of Materials Science and Engineering Ohio State University
Hamish Fraser

“This partnership will synergistically combine Ohio State’s expertise in high-strength alloys with Lehigh’s expertise in grain boundaries and cognitive research to develop a futuristic platform that will accelerate the innovation of high-performance materials.”

Lehigh University’s Martin Harmer, NHI director and adjunct professor with Ohio State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is principal investigator of LHEAD. Ohio State Professor Hamish Fraser, Ohio Regents Eminent Scholar and director of CAMM, is the project lead for the “Creep Resistant Refractory HEAs” project. Lehigh Research Scientist Chris Marvel is leading the “Creep Resistant Complex Ni Alloys” project. Ohio State Materials Science and Engineering Professors Yunzhi Wang, Maryam Ghazisaeidi and Steven Niezgoda will be key collaborators.

Superalloys are incredibly strong, can withstand high temperatures, and are resistant to creep (deformation due to mechanical stresses)

and corrosion, which make them ideal for use in hypersonic applications. However, existing superalloys have limitations that can inhibit the performance of the equipment in which they are used. Through the LHEAD project, researchers from Lehigh and Ohio State plan to design and produce two specific types of next-generation alloys to be used at temperatures greater than 1100 degrees Celsius: BCC/B2 refractory high-entropy alloys that exhibit an optimum combination of high strength, ductility, and creep resistance at high temperatures; and complex Rh-free Ni-based alloys containing nanoclusters that mitigate creep at high temperatures. 

“Superalloys are kind of capped out at the temperature at which they can operate,” said Marvel. “In order to manufacture hypersonics that are better and more efficient at high temperatures, we need new materials. Every aspect of the LHEAD project is trying to find alternative materials to get the overall performance to be a lot better.” 

The alloys the team develops “hopefully will give the Army a new class of materials to draw upon so that they can develop better engines and hypersonics,” said Harmer.  

Both institutions have extensive collections of equipment integral to the design of these high-strength alloys, which includes the need for mechanical testing and simulation. This project, the team writes in its proposal, will provide “easy access to over 20 separate electron microscopes, as well as other experimental tools of data collection,” producing “an unmatched collaborative infrastructure.”