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Next generation of thin materials

Johan Gerdin, doctoral student in Inorganic Chemistry, is working on the new CVD equipment.

The Department of Inorganic Chemistry at the Ångström Laboratory carries out research aimed at developing new durable materials. Now professor Mats Boman and his collaboration partners have received funding of almost SEK 31 million from SSF – the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.

The five-year framework grant is for the project CVD 2.0 – A New Generation of Hard Coatings in collaboration with Chalmers, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Sandvik and Seco Tools. With the support of the Swedish industrial companies, the researchers aim to create new and better materials for tools applications, among other things.

“Our research concerns the production of thin films in materials no thicker than one fifth that of a human hair,” says Mats Boman. “We are now working to make the next generation of such films even better. We do this using a technique called CVD – chemical vapour deposition – where we mix various gases and heat them so that a solid material is created in the form of a thin film.”

Making the material durable, requires a mixture of hard and so-called inert substances which do not react with other materials. According to Mats Boman, additional properties will be integrated into the new films, including low friction and optimal heat conductivity. The researchers mostly work with carbides, chemical compounds of carbon and a metal, but also with substances such as titanium nitride and aluminium oxide. Many of the compounds are used in tools for machining metals and other materials.

“These may be lathes or milling machines for producing various structures such as the cylinders in engine blocks or for giving brake discs and fine, even surface. Sweden is one of the world’s leading countries in this area and this is due to the foresight of Swedish industry and its co-operation with facilities doing basic research.”

The necessary skills and equipment have been available at Uppsala University for a long time. At the Ångström Laboratory, for example, there are seven CVD machines for making thin coatings. “In addition to this, students learn the technique as part of their Chemical Engineering and Engineering Physics with Materials Science degree programmes,” says Mats Boman.

What happens next?

“We have already put together the equipment for this project and will start using it in early autumn. By then, we will have recruited further doctoral students. One problem with constellations with a number of institutions involved is that each of them does its own research. We will avoid this by rotating the doctoral students so that they work at Uppsala University, KTH and Chalmers. This will also allow them to enhance their skills."