A new $1 million tomography machine, similar to the magnetic resonance imaging devices used in medicine but with greater power, will provide College of Engineering researchers a deeper, three-dimensional look at such materials as metals, woods, and even bones.
The Nikon X-ray Computed Tomography machine, purchased with a majority of funding from the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program, will be the centerpiece of a new facility that could become a Midwestern hub for researchers and businesses looking for state-of-the-art non-destructive testing.
The device is housed in the Nano-Engineering Research Core Facility (NECRF), and the co-principal investigators on the project include Jeff Shield, department chair and professor of mechanical and materials engineering; Joseph Turner, professor of mechanical and materials engineering; Yongfeng Lu, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Prahalada Rao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering; and Jinying Zhu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
"If you make a cake and want to know if it's good to eat, you have to taste it. To do that, you have to cut into it, but once you cut it open to check, you're done," said Rao. "Imagine slicing into that cake from the top, the sides and the front, and being able to examine all parts of it without destroying it – Have your cake and eat it, too.
"For researchers and manufacturers in Nebraska and the Great Plains, this can speed up their processes and potentially save thousands or millions of dollars."
Rao said this machine can accept samples that would fit in a three-dimensional space about the size of a big boot box (about 8 inches thick and 2 feet both wide and tall) and weighing less than 100 pounds.
It can allow for greater quality control for manufacturers of machine parts by allowing them to see flaws that were previously both expensive and difficult to find, Rao said. In some fields, being able to examine the inside of machine parts could be the difference between safety and tragedy.
Rao noted how, in 2010, a turbine disc caused an uncontained engine failure for Qantas Flight 32 only four minutes after takeoff from Singapore. Fortunately, Rao said, there were no injuries to the 469 people on board or to any people on the ground, but the disc broke free and destroyed a building on the ground.
"If you try to check every part of an engine, it would take years, and that adds up to a lot of money," Rao said. "If you have a place you can test your parts, you can save money and make your product safer. This machine allows us to slice and dice and view every section so we can know if our processes are good or bad and then do quality control before something bad happens."
By establishing a facility on campus that features the XCT machine, the College of Engineering will allow researchers greater understanding into their work with applications in construction, transportation infrastructure, medicine, agriculture, materials and manufacturing.
Rao also noted that researchers in other academic fields could be interested in using the machine, such as an archaeologist who doesn't want to damage a fossil but is interested in taking a deeper look inside.
"This facility is for industrial metrology (science of measurement) and part certification," Rao said. "The upgrade in technology we can provide is like going from still, black-and-white images from the 1920s to playing a video game today. It's a major step forward and has the potential to help so many businesses across Nebraska."
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