We’re going to take a look at new stuff people are doing with the most common metal there is. Aluminum. Today, on Engineering Works!
Aluminum has always been neat stuff. It’s light and fairly strong, and we use it for all kinds of things. Airplanes and engine blocks. Cooking utensils and baseball bats. Aluminum foil. Beer cans.
Aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth and the third most-abundant element, behind oxygen and silicon. It weighs about a third as much as steel, but it’s only a third as strong. First produced almost 200 years ago. The cap that covered the pyramid-shaped tip of the Washington Monument when it was completed in 1884 was made of aluminum. At that time, aluminum was worth about as much as silver.
Add a little zinc and magnesium, put about 850,000 pounds per square inch pressure on it and twist, and it gets as strong as the strongest steel. Three times as strong as conventional aluminum.
This pressure makes grains of aluminum smaller and forces the zinc and aluminum atoms to cluster together. Researchers aren’t sure why this makes aluminum stronger, but it does. And unlike a lot of nifty discoveries, engineers say scaling this one up to produce useful amounts of the super aluminum should be pretty easy.
We’re done for this time, so we’re going to toss our aluminum can in the recycle bin and go home. See you next time.
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Start the discussion: Aluminum in cool stuff and it’s good to know it’s good for more than aluminum foil and beer cans. What’s next for aluminum?