NTU scientists find way to bend ceramic

Ceramic is famously strong, yet brittle. No one can bend a ceramic bowl like one might a metal spoon or a disposable plastic cup - it would simply crack.

But Singaporean researchers are challenging this notion, and seeing surprising results.

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University's Temasek Laboratories, which specialises in defence science research, have found a way to make ceramic flexible.

This could pave the way for strong yet pliable ceramic for use in body or even vehicular armour.

Ceramic is stronger than many metals and able to withstand much higher temperatures of up to 1,200 deg C.

Working with ceramic filaments with a thickness of just a micrometre - one millionth of a metre - Temasek Laboratories director Gan Chee Lip succeeded in bending them repeatedly by up to 8 per cent of their size.

He did so by making each crystal grain in the ceramic as wide as the filament, reducing the number of boundaries between grains where cracks usually occur.

Professor Gan and his team, who worked with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US for more than a year, published their findings last month in the leading scientific journal, Science.

"It's something very exciting. We weren't sure it would really work," said Prof Gan. "We had to check many times that it really was bent, and there weren't cracks."

The filaments also showed "shape memory", meaning they could return to their original shapes once heated.

"Our focus now is to really see whether what we have demonstrated can be extended to larger sized materials," said Prof Gan.

"That is the key."

davidee@sph.com.sg