Winner of Science Magazine's 2012 Dance Your Ph.D. competition

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” – surely Charles Dickens was describing life as a PhD student? Through interpretive dance, we’ve tried to communicate the circus that is a PhD experience.

Our story introduces the Engineer's elusive dream to arrange the coupling of Lightness and Strength - a classic engineering romance over the ages. Strength is heavy and difficult to work with, Lightness is delicate and frail.

The Engineer summons the Scientist and explains the problem. This is a daunting task. Inspired by the Engineer, the Scientist uses a sophisticated atom probe microscope to observe, at the atomic level, what makes Lightness so frail. He finds that when force is applied to the perfect crystal structure of Lightness the bonds break and the atoms slip along a straight line. But how to make it stronger? Could the lines of atoms be arranged so that they didn’t slip?

Taking an unconventional route, The Scientist tries a process of applying torsion to redesign the atomic architecture. He applies this revolving force to the crystal, dividing it into multiple smaller parts, and creates interfaces that might block slip. Alloying atoms are arranged on the interfaces to provide important adhesion between the small crystals. Nervously, the Scientist tests this new design and discovers the new material resists much greater force without breaking. This new material is a light-weight aluminium alloy with the strength of heavy steel, a new world record!

The Engineer evaluates the new Super-Alloy. It performs fantastically! The Engineer thanks the Scientist and carries the Super-Alloy off into the sunset.

"Nanostructural hierarchy increases the strength of aluminium alloys"
Liddicoat, P.V., Liao, X.Z., Zhao, Y., Zhu, Y.T., Murashkin, M. Y., Lavernia, E. J., Valiev, R. Z., Ringer, S.P.
Nature Communications, 2010, Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 63-69

"Nanostructures give alloy super strength"
AMMRF Media Release, 2010

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