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Lab Report: Team Transforms Specialized Ceramics

Jul 01, 2022   |   by Julie Bonette   |   Dartmouth Engineer

Polymer-derived ceramics (PDCs) have enabled significant breakthroughs in biomedical implants and renewable energy storage devices, but PDCs are susceptible to wear and brittle fracture and can be hard to shape. Professor Yan Li and research associate Chi Ma have developed a flexible, energy-efficient approach that may offer an ideal solution to fabricating a range of durable ceramic composites.

Professor Yan Li (Photo by Eli Burakian '00)

Their computational framework accounts for the atomic structure evolution of PDCs while they undergo pyrolysis, a type of heat treatment, and their resulting transformation.

“The polymer-to-ceramic transition opens up exciting opportunities to produce a broad spectrum of PDCs with tailored mechanical, chemical, and physical properties,” says Li. “Shaping at the polymer state can avoid problems related to tool wear and brittle fracture upon finishing the ceramic component.”

The research, “Modeling of Phase Transition in Fabrication of Polymer-Derived Ceramics (PDCs),” was published last winter in International Journal of Computational Materials Science and Engineering. Li and Ma specifically investigated polymethylhydrosiloxane crosslinked by divinylbenzene, but the approach can be applied to other PDC fabrication systems.

"“These capabilities will greatly extend the use of ceramics in areas such as biomedical implants and renewable energy storage devices.”"

—Professor Yan Li

“We found that heating rate, pyrolysis temperature, and pyrolysis time combine to affect the mechanical response of the pyrolyzed sample,” says Li. “Certain phase composition maps can lead to improved material strength without sacrificing the ductility. These capabilities will greatly extend the use of ceramics in areas such as biomedical implants and renewable energy storage devices, where customer-specific geometry and functionality are in high demand.”

The research was supported by the New Hampshire Center for Multiscale Modeling and Manufacturing of Biomaterials, a $20-million project funded by the National Science Foundation.

This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of the Dartmouth Engineer magazine.

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