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Microstructure and mechanical properties of an advanced metal matrix composite

PhD project title

Microstructure and mechanical properties of an advanced metal matrix composite with ultrafine particle reinforcement for manufacturing aerospace components

Outline description, including interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international dimensions 

Metal matrix composites have the high strength needed for advanced manufacturing, but they tend to have limited ductility, because they are almost invariably reinforced by hard ceramic particles that are brittle themselves and also have a rather brittle interface with the metal matrix.  Shandong Yuanhang Ultra Light Material Research Institute Co., Ltd., China invented a world-first metal matrix composite that is reinforced by an intermetallic compound YAl2.  Because the reinforcing particles are also metals, there should be a seamless interface between the particles and the metal matrix, thus overcoming the brittle interface problem.  In addition, these particles are ultrafine, down to the nanometre range, so their strengthening is more effective.

The metal matrix of this new material is an ultra-light magnesium alloy and would be suitable for manufacturing critical components for aerospace products specifically satellites, drones, and low-altitude aircrafts, where weight and strength-to-weight ratio are important.  However, before the new material can be used, we need to fully understand its properties and performance, and to know the optimal processing parameters to achieve the best properties and performance.  In order to accomplish these, we need to study the microstructure and metal/particle interface of the prototype composite.  Then, we need to figure out where to use this top-notch material for advanced manufacturing.  All these are part of this PhD project.

This project is interdisciplinary, between materials science (Prof. Sha), composite production (Dr. Wu), and mechanical, manufacturing and aerospace engineering (Dr. Malinov).  It will be intersectoral, between academia and industry, working directly with the company responsible for the invention of this material.  It is international, because the company is in China.  The combination is essential, because, without the company, we don’t have this material to study and without Queen’s University, it will take longer for this material to reach its full potential.

Key words/descriptors

Metal matrix composite; aerospace.

Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

Advanced Manufacturing

Supervisor Information



First Supervisor: Professor Wei Sha                                                                     School: Natural and Built Environment

Second Supervisor: Dr. Savko Malinov                                                                School: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Third Supervisor: Dr. Guoqing Wu   Company: Shandong Yuanhang Ultra Light Material Research Institute Co., Ltd., China

Name of non-HEI partner(s)

Shandong Yuanhang Ultra Light Material Research Institute Co., Ltd., China

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:

Each project requires that Fellows have a placement opportunity to develop their research projects at the premises of a non-HEI partner. Please describe the profile of the non-HEI partner and the nature of the relationship.    

The main business of Shandong Yuanhang Ultra Light Material Research Institute Co., Ltd., China includes carrying out testing, analysis, process rectification and other services for leading companies in metals and materials, focusing on providing support for core light materials technology research and development, industrial transformation of R&D results, and regional industrial upgrading in the field of light alloys.

Shandong Yuanhang Ultra Light Material Research Institute Co., Ltd. has in recent years concentrated on technological innovation, developing novel materials and advanced manufacturing technology.  The invention of the Mg alloy/YAl2 metal matrix composite, to be studied and further developed in this PhD project, is one of the highlight achievements of the company.  Other notable work by the company includes titanium alloys for the manufacturing of airplanes and magnesium-lithium alloys for the manufacturing of helmets and stretchers and other military gears that are ultra-light and welcomed by soldiers.  The company has all the large scale composite production and processing facilities needed by this project.  The company currently has some 50 employees.  Dr. Wu is the Technical Director of the company.

Cost occurring at the company side will include making and processing of prototype composite, in multiple trials, posting the materials, and hosting visits of the student and Queen’s supervisor(s).  These costs will be borne by the company.

The company will host the placement of the student, at the company site in Shandong Province, China, for each year of the project duration, so that the student will have a direct industrial experience, on the production of the novel composite material and the manufacturing of advanced aerospace components in satellites, drones, and low-altitude aircrafts.  The student will also develop an international appreciation, in the world’s fastest developing superpower country.  The company will also conduct in-service tests of the materials developed, that we hope the student will be involved in.

Research centre / School

School of Natural and Built Environment and School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Subject area

Composite; Advanced manufacturing of aerospace components