Lightweight Metal Foam Makes Autos Safer

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Almost half a million dollars invested by the National Science Foundation over the last 5 years has just yielded a space age material so light and strong that it makes a 28 mile per hour crash feel like a gentle fender blip at 5 mph.

Afsaneh Rabiei has invented a metal foam with such a high strength-to-density ratio that it could revolutionize the auto industry. She says it isn’t the first metal foam, but hers has tested out as the strongest, partly because it utilizes a metallic matrix to support the cell walls.

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Existing metal foams have varying sized cells—tiny pockets of space inside the material. Instead Rabiei made the cells of standard sizes. That (and the metallic matrix) help the foam absorb energy much better than current metal foams.

“This material showed a much higher strength-to-density ratio than any metal foam that has ever been reported,” said Rabiei, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, and the recipient of $452,250 in funding for this purpose since 2003 from the National Science Foundation.

She wanted to use her funding to develop a light, strong material needed to improve safety and fuel economy in the automotive, aerospace and other industries. It looks like she succeeded. The National Science Foundation has picked another winner.

Who says government shouldn’t try to pick winners and losers.

Photo Credit: National Science Foundation

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