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Hydra promises even better materials

All that glitters isn’t gold... The surface of this summer's Olympic torch was actually made of a thin layer of titanium nitride alloy. It was made using “arc evaporation”, an art which is now being refined by materials researchers at Linköping University.

OS-facklans yta består av titannitrid

In a lab in the university physics building, glistening in rust-free glory, stands the Hydra coating system, designed and built by lecturer Johanna Rosén and principal research engineer Lars-Åke Näslund.

SEK 3 million was spent on a unique piece of equipment that opens up completely new possibilities for advanced materials research in close collaboration with industry.

“During the years I have worked with arc evaporation I have longed for a more flexible coating system. Thanks to funds form the Linköping University (LiU) and the European Research Council it has now become reality,” says Rosén, who was recruited five years ago as one of the first crop of LiU Future Research Leaders.

During her years a postdoc at Berkeley and Sydney she learned a method that involved a small amount of the source material, for example a piece of titanium, being evaporated to plasma at very high temperature. The plasma consists of titanium ions that are directed at the target, enclosed in a vacuum chamber. If we wanted to make titanium nitride, as in the case of the Olympic torches, a cloud of nitrogen gas would be added.

What makes Hydra unique is that it can use three material sources that are directed at the same point in the vacuum chamber.

“In such a way we can tailor the compound and investigate completely new materials. We are now beginning projects with a number of industrial companies,” Rosén says.

Beläggningssystemet Hydra invigs vid IFM

She leads a research team with five graduate students, three postdocs and a research engineer, which is exactly like the five-year plan she was part of in early 2007. A success story that she shares with many of the 24 young researchers who have been recruited so far, following the LiU model of a substantial starting grant combined with a leadership programme.

After a break in 2012 another round was announced, this time with the name “LiU research fellows”. The initiative takes place under international competition and usually attracts around one hundred applications or so.

“The programme has been highly appreciated and has inspired external financiers to similar investments,” says LiU Deputy Vice-chancellor Karin Fälth-Magnusson.

Picture: Johanna Rosén (left) and Karin Fälth-Magnusson (right) inaugurating Hydra, which received its name from its three “heads".

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Åke Hjelm Thu Sep 27 09:26:00 CEST 2012

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