Pictured: The surface condition of two samples of the magnesium-lithium alloy following immersion for 20 hours in salt water, one after being heat-treated and water quenched, and the other without processing. In previous magnesium-lithium alloys, irreversible corrosion would have set in after such time, but clearly visible in this optical profilometer image, the surface of the processed alloy remains in near pristine condition.
Researchers led by a team at UNSW Australia have used the Australian Synchrotron to turn the discovery of an ultra-low density and corrosion-resistant magnesium alloy into the first step toward mass-producing ‘stainless magnesium’, a new high-strength, lightweight metal, paving the way for cars, trucks and aeroplanes that can travel further distances on less petrol.
The magnesium-lithium alloy weighs half as much as aluminium and is 30 per cent lighter than magnesium, making it an attractive candidate to replace these commonly used metals to improve fuel efficiency and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport vehicles.
The findings, published in the current edition of Nature Materials with researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, describe how the alloy forms a protective layer of carbonate-rich film upon atmospheric exposure, making it immune to corrosion when tested in laboratory settings.
Professor Michael Ferry, from UNSW’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, says this formation of a protective surface layer can be considered similar to the way a layer of chromium oxide enables the protection of stainless steel.
‘Many similar alloys have been created as researchers seek to combine the incredible lightness of lithium with the strength and durability of magnesium to develop a new metal that will boost the fuel efficiency and distance capacity of aeroplanes, cars and spacecraft.
‘This is the first magnesium-lithium alloy to stop corrosion from irreversibly eating into the alloy, as the balance of elements interacts with ambient air to form a surface layer which, even if scraped off repeatedly, rapidly reforms to create reliable and durable protection.’
Professor Ferry, senior author of the paper led by Dr Wanqiang Xu also from UNSW, says this excellent corrosion resistance was observed by chance, when his team noticed a heat-treated sample from Chinese aluminium-production giant, CHALCO, sitting, inert, in a beaker of water.
‘To see no corroded surfaces was perplexing and, by partnering with scientists on the Powder Diffraction (PD) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron, we found the alloy contains a unique nanostructure that enables the formation of a protective surface film.
‘Now we’ve turned our attention to investigating the molecular composition of the underlying alloy and the carbonate-rich surface film, to understand how the corrosion process is impeded in this “stainless magnesium”.’
The transport sector accounts for 90 megatonnes (90 billion kilograms) of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia each year, or 16 per cent of Australia’s total; road vehicles account for 77 megatonnes and aviation eight tonnes.
Professor Nick Birbilis, School of Materials Science and Engineering at Monash University, says viewing unprecedented structural detail of the alloy through the Australian Synchrotron will enable the team, involving researchers from Monash University, CHALCO, and Nanjing University of Technology in China, to work toward commercialising the new metal.
‘Through our close collaborator, Dr Yang Xiao, we have strong ties to the Zhengzhou Light Metals Research Institute of CHALCO in China.
‘We’re aiming to take the knowledge gleaned at the Australian Synchrotron to incorporate new techniques into the mass-production of this unique alloy in sheets of varying thickness, in a standard processing plant.
‘These panels will make many vehicles and consumer products much lighter and, eventually, just as durable as today’s corrosion-resistant stainless steel, another example of how advanced manufacturing is unlocking the potential of materials that have been under investigation, in too narrow a manner, for centuries.’
· Discovery of ‘stainless magnesium’ on ABC radio's ‘AM’, Thursday 26 November 2015
Australian research into the molecular make-up of cells in the body, common elements, and minerals has reached a milestone with researchers at the Australian Synchrotron releasing detail of their 1000th protein structure to the world, paving the way for improved understanding of disease and more targeted therapies.
Detailed imagery of the Bax protein (pictured, centre), determined by scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne using the Australian Synchrotron, was the 1000th structure submitted to the Protein Data Bank, a free and open-access central repository for crucial molecular information that supports global biological research.
Dr Peter Czabotar from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute says Bax will now be analysed to understand key steps involved in programmed cell death in diseases.
‘Through our experiments at the Australian Synchrotron, we can now picture the molecular structure of Bax and, by analysing its surface, shape and interactions, we can now work toward treatments that support, or block, its activity, depending on its role in different diseases, including cancer.’
Scientists from Australian and New Zealand used the Australian Synchrotron to solve 1,000 protein structures in less than eight years, using only two of the facility’s ten experiment stations, known as beamlines, a rate on par with other, larger synchrotrons in North America, Europe and Asia.
Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies, Principal Scientist of the Macro and Micro-molecular Crystallography (MX1 and MX2) beamlines at the Synchrotron, says the facility is crucial to understanding the structure of proteins, at a molecular level, which cannot be visualised in any other laboratory setting.
‘To reveal a protein’s structure, which may hold the key to better understanding its role in diseases, treatments or industrial products, researchers must purify the protein and turn it into a crystal -- the right crystal can take months to make and may be too small or weak to subject to regular laboratory X-ray research.
‘The Australian Synchrotron’s X-ray light is a million times brighter than the sun, enabling light to diffract off crystals smaller than one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, leading to high definition data sets that can produced in a matter of minutes, rather than days.’
Dr Caradoc-Davies says structures discovered using the Australian Synchrotron have unlocked innovation across a range of scientific fields including medical research, electronics and mining.
‘New appreciation of how proteins are shaped enables scientists to understand their role in the onset and progression of diseases, design novel drugs that target proteins for new medicines, or rationally engineer new medical products.’
Also pictured: the 500th protein deposited to the Protein Data Bank, called 3ZIN (left), solved in 2013 by researchers at The University of Queensland and, (right), a sphere model of Solanezumab, showing every individual atom; insight into how Solanezumab interacts with brain proteins associated with the development of Alzheimer’s highlights what makes current therapies for the disease effective, and show how these therapies can be improved, revealed earlier this year by research from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research.
Research using the Australian Synchrotron to understand how milk is digested, to drive innovation in products that deliver nutrients to infants, received a boost on Friday when a collaborative team from Monash University and the Australian Synchrotron were awarded a Discovery Projects Grant from the Australian Research Council.
The grant, worth $523,000 over 3 years will build on the discovery in March this year that human breast milk forms into highly organised structures at the nanoscale, during digestion in the body.
Monash University’s Professor Ben Boyd (pictured right), a Principal Investigator on the successful grant with Dr Adrian Hawley (pictured left) from the Australian Synchrotron’s Small and Wide X-ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS) beamline, says delivering new understanding of the processes of milk
‘Milk is the most important food for human survival, providing all the essential nutrition to newborn infants and constituting a major part of the adult diet.’
‘We recently discovered that a nanostructure is formed during the digestion of both cow and breast milk and, through this funding, we will investigate this nanostructure formation as part of a broader effort to develop new food supplements and nutritional formulas that are more easily digested.’
Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, who announced the funding in Adelaide on Friday as part of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Major Grants Announcement, said that the funding is a strong investment in research excellence and the future health of Australian research.
‘A strong investment in high-quality research will drive innovation, secure the jobs of the future, improve the health of our community, protect our environment and ensure our researchers can compete on the international stage.’
Other research projects to be awarded today with close research links to the Australian Synchrotron (Soft X-ray beamline) include the search for more efficient energy generating, storing and transmitting material that will allow a break away from conventional silicon based transistor technology, led by Dr Mark Edmonds from Monash University, and research to create nanotechnologies to sense traces of chemical and biological molecules, to improve air, water and food safety and pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, led by Dr Luhua Li from Deakin University.