FOR JET ENGINES, running hotter usually means running more efficiently. But engine designers are constrained by the low melting temperatures of metals used in such parts as turbine blades. Now, a Drexel University materials engineer has developed a ceramic-metal compound that can withstand nearly 400F degrees more heat than the best superalloys. Associate Professor Michel W. Barsoum's blend of titanium, silicon, and carbon can also handle quick temperature changes.
According to an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, the compound combines the best attributes of ceramics and metals. It's two-thirds as hard as a diamond, resists corrosive oxidation, and conducts heat and electricity well. Similar compounds have been studied for decades, but Barsoum's patented baking process yields greater purity. Is it a metal or a ceramic? "It doesn't matter what you call it," he says. Barsoumite, perhaps?