Researchers at Purdue University have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of materials science, uncovering a novel treatment that enhances the strength and plasticity of a high-quality steel alloy. This development has the potential to revolutionize various industries that rely on strong and ductile steel components.The treatment involves the creation of ultra-fine metal grains on the outermost layer of the steel, resulting in a phenomenon called super-plasticity. The alloy used in the study, known as T-91, is commonly employed in nuclear and petrochemical applications but could find wider applications in areas such as automotive axles, suspension cables, and structural components.Collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories, the research team observed intriguing characteristics in the treated steel. A region extending from the surface to a depth of about 200 microns exhibited a unique "nanolaminate" structure composed of ultra-fine metal grains. Under increasing strain, the steel displayed unexpected deformations, demonstrating its remarkable super-plasticity.The treated G-T91 sample showcased impressive results, with a yield strength of approximately 700 megapascals and the ability to withstand a uniform strain of about 10%. These findings represent a significant improvement over standard T-91 steel, demonstrating the successful combination of strength and ductility.Microscopy images captured during tension testing revealed a perplexing phenomenon. As the strain increased, the grains in the nanolaminate appeared to stretch, rotate, and elongate horizontally. This movement of the grain boundaries allowed the steel to deform plastically, contributing to its unique properties. The research team is now focused on understanding the rules governing this behavior to pave the way for further advancements.This pioneering research opens up exciting possibilities for the manipulation of grain structures in materials. By unraveling the mechanisms behind the movement of grain boundaries, researchers aim to optimize the arrangement of grains, potentially leading to the development of even stronger and more versatile materials. The project received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization has secured a patent for this innovative treatment, ensuring the protection of intellectual property. Interested industry partners can reach out to explore opportunities for further development and commercialization of this groundbreaking work.