PhD Student Mehdi Taherishargh has developed a low-cost, super-light metal foam that has the potential to save lives.

Super-light metal foam - taking the impact out of auto accidents

06 August 2014

University of Newcastle PhD Student Mehdi Taherishargh has developed a low-cost, super-light metal foam with potential applications in the automotive industry that could save lives and prevent damage in an accident.

"Reducing vehicle weight and increasing safety have been concerns of the automotive industry for many years. Recently the front area of vehicles has been made from very soft materials so that during a collision they can absorb energy through shrinkage. This has improved car safety – the passengers have a better chance of survival – but not the poor car! " Said Mr Taherishargh.

Mr Taherishargh believes it's possible to save both by putting a strong shock absorbent material into the car bumper.

"We all know porous substances are very good shock absorbers. This is why your bones are porous. But we need something very strong – like a porous metal or metal foam."

Other metal foams have been developed in recent years – but their application in industry has been limited because they are unreliable or too expensive.

"I started my PhD to develop a low cost, low-density metal foam which will be easy to fabricate. I have developed a new material by infiltrating molten aluminium with a super light particle called expanded pearlite – which is lighter than popcorn," said Mr Taherishargh.

Mr Taherishargh is excited about the resulting material – a metal foam of such low density that it will easily float on water.

"I put this new material under compression … and the result amazed me and made me proud. It showed great energy absorption under eight tonnes of load! In future I will know my material better from a mechanical and structural point of view – and I hope it will find its place in industry to save both lives and cars!" said Mr Taherishargh.

Mehdi's research was the topic of his prize-winning presentation in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment Three Minute Thesis heats held in May. The Three Minute Thesis competition challenges PhD students to distil their research into a three-minute talk, suitable for a non-academic audience.

The Faculty heats showcased the remarkable array of research projects currently being undertaken at the University of Newcastle in the fields of engineering and the built environment. Other prize-winners included:

2nd Prize – Emad Benhelal, "Mineral Carbonation for CO2 Sequestration" (PhD in Chemical Engineering)

ESL Prize – Md Arifuzzaman, "Manufacturing and Properties of Perlite-Silicate Composites" (PhD in Mechanical Engineering)

Runner Up – Elizabeth Ratnam, "Green Switch" (PhD in Electrical Engineering)

Runner Up – Luke Harvey, "Valuable Chemicals from Biodiesel Waste (MPhil in Chemical Engineering)

Faculty 2nd Prize-winner Emad Benhelal was also highly commended at the University-wide Three Minute Thesis competition across all faculties, which concluded on the 23rd of July.

Some of the best presentations from the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment have been uploaded to our Youtube channel.