This year the Royal Society has launched its Year of Science and Industry to showcase excellence in UK industrial science and strengthen links between the Society, industry, academia, and the public.

One of the ways that the Royal Society supports science in industry is through its Industry Fellowships. These fellowships allow scientists from academia to work on a collaborative project with industry, or industrial scientists to work on a collaborative project with an academic institution.

To celebrate the launch of the Year of Science and Industry our first research image of 2013 is ‘Mixing lightning with water to improve the surface of aluminium’ and comes from Dr James Curran, an Industry Fellow and Principal Materials Engineer at Keronite International Ltd. Dr Curran is working with Cambridge University to understand the underlying science behind Plasma Electrolysis.

‘Mixing lightning with water to improve the surface of aluminium’ by Dr James Curran

The image shows an aluminium high performance racing piston immersed in a bath of water based electrolyte. The surface is glowing with millions of microscopic discharges – like microscopic bolts of lightning. Temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun are achieved and it is these extreme conditions that help convert the surface of the aluminium into an extremely hard sapphire-like crystalline material. This process makes the metal far more durable and has many real-life applications from F1 engine parts and aircraft landing gear to high performance cycle rims and scratch-resistant phone cases. Using this process to improve the durability of metal components, for example in manufacturing, results in a reduction in energy consumption and waste. It also improves efficiency as parts no longer need to be replaced as frequently.

Dr Curran and his partner organisation, the University of Cambridge, use modern techniques such as those used to study light emissions from stars and galaxies, coupled with the data processing capabilities of the latest generation of computers. Their ultimate aim is to explore the process in detail to explain the mechanism and make it more efficient and more widely used.

Want to hear Dr Curran explain his research and how the Royal Society Industry Fellowship has supported him, have a look at our video case study here.

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