Ohio State provides vital aircraft engine material research

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Aviation investigators in Washington want to know what caused a five-foot hole to rip open on this Southwest flight last Friday.

The incident claimed the life of one passenger. Inspectors will examine the section of fuselage that tore apart to find the answer.

At the Center For Electron Microscopy and Analysis at Ohio State University, scientists are taking on an even more challenging task.

Researchers subject materials used in aircraft engines to a stressor and fatigue designed to mimic flight.

"These are materials that are incredibly reliable compared to anything else we have," said OSU Professor Michael Mills.

A team of researchers are learning when, where, and why a flaw, such as crack, begins, and how long it takes to evolve into a catastrophic failure. The focus is on microstructure analysis.

"In Material Science, we believe understanding how a blade might behave depends on understanding its detailed microstructure because the material behavior depends on how you've processed the material to get it into final form," explained Professor Mills. "So we have tools here that allow us to go way beyond optical observation, down to atomic level if need be."

The research could ultimately help scientists gain a better understanding of how to create better, stronger, safer engines.

"It's exploring how new materials might sustain these same sorts of conditions and can they be pushed to higher temperatures, higher stresses," said Professor Mills.

Researchers use a scanning electron microscope, a highly sophisticated analysis tool, to gain a better understanding of material flaws.

OSU's research could also contribute to improving computer models designed to measure the probability of when and where materials in aircraft engines can become susceptible to flaws.