Research Fellows Directory
Dr Catherine Rae
University of Cambridge
This Fellowship is being held part time over four years in Rolls-Royce plc. My research centres around the development and understanding of the materials used in the gas turbine, not only one of the hottest parts of the engine, but also subject to enormous centrifugal forces. At present the materials of choice for these components are ni-based alloys known as ‘superalloys’ so-called because of their counter-intuitive property of increasing in strength with temperature, up to a point. The optimum operating temperature for the engine exceeds the current temperature capability of the alloys by a margin of several hundred degrees. Part of this is made up by channeling cooling air over the surface of the rotating blade and by adding insulated coatings. But there is still an urgent need for new materials to further increase efficiency.
Designing new materials within the increasingly tight deadlines dictated by engine development requires a deep understanding of these materials which can be embedded in model to predict properties. This allows a wider range of compositions to be considered prior to experimental testing. We are working closely with Rolls-Royce to understand how composition of alloys and the resulting microstructures contribute to the behaviour of these materials in a number of areas. One of these is the deterioration which results from the oxidation of the surfaces of single crystal turbine blades operating above 1500ºC in a stream of burning jet fuel.
Over the last three years we have been working with Rolls-Royce and the EPSRC to develop the Strategic Partnership in Structural Metallics, a novel mechanism for funding fundamental research of relevance to technologically advanced manufacturing, proving not only insight in to the scientific challenges but training the next generation of scientists.