In Summary
  • Martin Thuo was so irritated by noise coming from welding works near a house when he visited Kenya in 2011 that he started wondering whether he could create a system that allows metals to be joined in silence.
  • It was not until 2014 that he finally figured out how that could work.

  • The light-bulb moment came when he drew inspiration from a project he was engaged in, which involved liquid metals.

  • In that joining process, there is total silence at an environment-friendly setting.

  • They realised that if a molten metal was enclosed into shells then the shells are ruptured at the right place, it could lead to the joining of two surfaces.

Scientists worldwide now know it is possible to join two solids without welding or using heat, thanks to an invention by a team led by a Kenyan professor working in the United States.

Prof Martin Thuo, currently a professor of engineering at Iowa State University, was so irritated by noise coming from welding works near a house when he visited Kenya in 2011 that he started wondering whether he could create a system that allows metals to be joined in silence.

“Someone was working on welding a gate and the noise coming from their work was just excruciating, especially after 20 hours of travelling and a late night catching up with the family,” the chemistry expert told the Nation.

It was not until 2014 that he finally figured out how that could work. The light-bulb moment came when he drew inspiration from a project he was engaged in, which involved liquid metals.

Working with a research team he founded in 2014 that now has 11 members, he figured out a complex process in which two different surfaces can be fused using cooled metal rather than heated one.

In that joining process, there is total silence at an environment-friendly setting.

They realised that if a molten metal was enclosed into shells then the shells are ruptured at the right place, it could lead to the joining of two surfaces.

'TO SOLIDIFY'

“The particles we made can be envisioned as balloons containing a liquid which when punctured release the liquid. But in our case, this also allows it to solidify,” explained Prof Thuo, who obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Kenyatta University between 1996 and 2002.

“The question then was how we could keep the metal from becoming a solid once inside our shells. The solution was hidden in the shell itself since we could engineer it to keep the molten metal liquid even after cooling it below its melting point,” he added.

The professor has created a company, Safi Tech, which he says is moving the invention to commercialisation.

Details of the welding process were published in the Scientific Reports journal on February 16, 2016, where Prof Thuo and his team explained the areas where their innovation can be used.

Among them, they wrote, is “healing of damaged surfaces and soldering/ joining of metals at room temperatures without requiring high tech instrumentation, complex material preparation, or a high temperature process”.

“Manufacturing by means of undercooled particles could also be used for healing damaged surfaces such as cracks, scratches, or other defects below the microscale as long as the surface bearing the defect can bond (chemical or mechanical) with the undercooled metal upon solidification,” they stated.

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