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Research Fellows Directory

James Curran

Dr James Curran

Research Fellow


Keronite International Ltd

Research 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.

Grants awarded

Exploration of the Physical Processes in Electrolytic Plasma Processing

Scheme: Industry Fellowship

Dates: Jul 2011 - Oct 2013

Value: £81,213.48