Power/Performance Bits: Jan. 5

A foggy consortium; strong, lightweight new metal.


A foggy consortium

Scientists at Princeton University, ARM, Cisco, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft formed a global effort to develop architectures and tools to further “fog computing” and networks, which aim to harness connected devices’ own computing, sensing and storage power to form edge networks that meet most of the demand of user devices that are at the periphery of a more centralized network.

The new nonprofit group, the Open Fog Consortium, was announced at the Internet of Things World Forum in Dubai on Dec. 6. The group seeks to build a basic architecture for fog networking in the coming years, and has opened its membership to companies and universities worldwide. The consortium expects to deliver reports detailing best practices for the new technologies as they are developed.

The goal, the consortium announced, is to “define a common framework for distributed computing based on open standard technologies.”

Establishing clear industry architectures at the outset should make it much easier to develop technologies to support open fog networks, said Denny Strigl, a former CEO of Verizon Wireless. Strigl said wireless companies were able build their networks with a variety of competing technical standards, but the process was “very painful.” He said it took nearly 20 years before the industry adopted a uniform standard and consumers were able to easily move between different wireless systems.

Ideally, fog computing could avoid many current network problems by distributing computation, control and data storage to the edges of networks and emphasizing local, distributed clusters rather than a centralized system. It should also allow networks to respond more fluidly to changes in user demand.

Strong, lightweight new metal

A team of researchers from UCLA, Clemson University, North Carolina State University, Hysitron, Inc. of Minneapolis, and UC Riverside created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in molten metals. They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals.

“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” said Xiaochun Li of UCLA, the principal investigator on the research. “With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society.”

At left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across. (Source: UCLA)

At left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across. (Source: UCLA)

Structural metals are load-bearing metals used in buildings and vehicles. Magnesium, at just two-thirds the density of aluminum, is the lightest structural metal. Silicon carbide is an ultra-hard ceramic commonly used in industrial cutting blades. The researchers’ technique of infusing a large number of silicon carbide particles smaller than 100 nanometers into magnesium added significant strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

The researchers’ new silicon carbide-infused magnesium demonstrated record levels of specific strength — how much weight a material can withstand before breaking — and specific modulus — the material’s stiffness-to-weight ratio. It also showed superior stability at high temperatures.

The new metal (more accurately called a metal nanocomposite) is about 14 percent silicon carbide nanoparticles and 86 percent magnesium. The researchers noted that magnesium is an abundant resource and that scaling up its use would not cause environmental damage.

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