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Cambridge University: Engineering Atoms

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Engineering on the smallest level can provide us with remarkable benefits on the largest level, mitigating global warming.

Atomic-level engineering is at the forefront of modern, greener jet engine design.

The increasing demand for more people to fly while reducing carbon emissions is one of the greatest aeronautical engineering challenges. Efficiency requires engines to run hotter and faster, but the best materials are already running close to their limits. At the Cambridge Rolls-Royce UTC, we design metal alloys that are able to withstand the extreme conditions inside the gas turbine engine.

The jet engine is a tough engineering environment. The hot gas stream exceeds 1800⁰C, and the forces on the rotating turbine blades are equivalent to hanging 15 hatchback cars from each one. But to reach the full potential of the engine we must develop new materials to withstand even higher temperatures and stresses. We study how atomic arrangements in metals influence their properties and performance. By engineering the position, size and type of atoms in metal alloys, we can radically change their capabilities. This knowledge is enabling us to design new materials for modern jet engines.