A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow the University of Pittsburgh to begin research that could have significant benefits for additive manufacturing and other industries.

Dr. Jörg M.K. Wiezorek, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials at Pitt, and his research group received a three-year, $503,435 grant from the NSF Division of Materials Research to access a unique dynamic transmission electron microscope (DTEM). The tool will allow them to examine in real time how metals and alloys solidify after laser beam melting.

Wiezorek believes their research will provide insight that will eventually prove useful in additive manufacturing and high-density welding, which employ similar laser or electron beam-based melting processing technologies.

“There’s a desire within larger communities, in industry, and in government labs and academia, to develop a scientific foundation and understanding of the process that occurs during additive manufacturing,” says Wiezorek. “What it will do for this community is provide experimental data that currently cannot be had.”

Developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, the award-winning microscope uses high-speed, rapid sequence photography to capture transformations or reactions moving at greater than 10 meters per second.

Wiezorek says that the DTEM’s added ability to photograph under certain conditions will allow them to gather more information than ever before.

“There’s very little or no data on the processes that occur during solidification,” says Wiezorek. “Previously, the problem has been that we don’t have any tools to look through or into metals because light is typically reflected by it. We had to use model materials that were optically transparent and use them as stand-ins for actual metals.”

As Wiezorek explains, he and his team will use laser pulses to melt thin metallic and aluminum alloy films within the DTEM. They will then view the images captured by the microscope to observe exactly how, when and where solidification happens.

The grant will also fund educational outreach geared toward middle and high school students, and enhance the materials science curriculum at Pitt.

Funding officially begins on September 1, 2016. Wiezorek says that he and his research team should begin their work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory during the first week of October.