Lucien Brush and Stephen Davis win NSF grant to research metallic foams

Lucien Brush, UW associate professor of materials science and engineering, is a principal investigator on a collaborative research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to understand and predict the behavior of metallic foams.

The project is titled “Dynamics and Stability of Metallic Foams: Network Modeling.” Stephen H. Davis, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Applied Mathematics at Northwestern University, is Brush’s partner on the project.

Foams consist of a large volume fraction of isolated gas bubbles surrounded by interconnected strands of flowing liquid, and they are continuously evolving. A major goal of the research is to build a macroscale network model from the details of microscale and mesoscale flow and interface dynamics, and to be able to describe the evolution of a foam consisting of many crowded bubbles, and in the future, the solidification of a foam. The research serves as a prelude to the study of the freezing of foams resulting in engineered structures.

Brush and Davis will focus on metallic foams, which are promising in applications that require strong, lightweight materials. However, metal foams are often difficult to process by freezing. One reason is due to their relatively larger values of surface tension and lower viscosities. “In clean metallic foams, the drainage of the liquid strands separating the gas bubbles results in coalescence of gas bubbles too quickly to allow the freezing of porous structures,” Brush said. Through their modeling effort, Brush and Davis believe they will be able to address this and other issues.

Metallic foams are promising materials for a variety of applications. They could be used in aircraft, ships and other vehicles where weight considerations are directly related to fuel consumption. Solid foams absorb substantial energy upon stressing and their large surface areas are useful in catalysis. Closed-cell solid foams possess unusually high buoyancy, making them desirable at sea.

There is a spectrum of additional possible applications including filtration, sound suppression, magnetic shielding, vibration damping, stiff lightweight panels, medical implants, storage media or heat exchangers.

The project duration is from August 2008 through August 2011. The NSF has awarded Brush $235,000 of the total $600,000 award.

For more information, visit the NSF Web site.

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