Min earns NSF Career award: Cutting ceramics loose from their difficult reputation

Ceramic materials are exceptionally strong; sapphire, for instance, is the second-strongest material after diamond. But that strength, as well as the materials’ brittleness, presents some challenges to overcome.

“Ceramic materials have a lot of potentials, but the reason they are not widely used by industry is because of limitations with the processing technology,” says Sangkee Min, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s not possible to fabricate these materials in mass quantities using conventional manufacturing technologies.”

Min seeks to develop new machining strategies for ceramics that would enable companies to adopt these materials for a wide variety of applications.

First, Min needs to deal with the problem of cracks. Conventional machining creates cracks on ceramic surfaces because the crystal structure of the material is prone to fracture.

With support from a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, Min will explore how the forces generated from cutting cause cracks in ceramic materials. Then, with this understanding, he will devise new strategies for machining that will avoid creating those cracks in the first place.