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James Curran

Dr James Curran

Dr James Curran

Research Fellow

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Exploration of the Physical Processes in Electrolytic Plasma Processing

Scheme: Industry Fellowship

Organisation: Keronite International Ltd

Dates: Jul 2011-Oct 2013

Value: £81,213.48

Summary: “Mixing lightning with water to make the most of aluminium”: My research involves a spectacular process that generates millions of microscopic lightning bolts on the surface of a metal part, and uses this injection of energy to improve the properties of the metal. Temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun are achieved within a tank of cold water, and this can transform the surface of aluminium into an extremely hard material like sapphire. This process already has real applications ranging from F1 engine parts to aircraft landing gear, and from high performance road cycle rims to scratch-resistant mobile phone cases, but many of these have been developed through mere trial and error, whilst the underlying science remains very limited. Indeed, although the origins of this process can be traced back to the time of Michael Faraday, and perhaps even Benjamin Franklin’s experiments (possibly even powered by real lighting!), it only found industrial applications in the late 20th century, and remains poorly understood. My research uses some of the modern techniques use to study light emissions from stars and galaxies, coupled with data processing capabilities only made possible with the latest generations of computers, to explore the process in unprecedented detail, to explain the mechanism, and ultimately to make it more efficient and more widely used. This research has already resulted in several new product developments for UK companies, and almost all of these involve manufacturing efficiency gains and reduce energy consumption or waste by making machine parts last a lot longer. For example, the aluminium parts used to make the humble paper coffee cup can be made to last for years by using this process, whereas they used to need replacing every few months.

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