Ultra-high temperature furnace built for leading Chinese university

Dr Dave Langstaff with the levitating furnace

Dr Dave Langstaff with the levitating furnace

12 December 2014

A levitating furnace that can reach temperatures over half that of the surface of the Sun has been developed for a leading Chinese university by researchers at Aberystwyth University.

The furnace represents the first major contract to be secured by the Department of Physics at Aberystwyth University with a major Chinese university and will be exported to Wuhan University of Technology just before Christmas.

Located in central China, Wuhan University of Technology is considered one of the country’s top 10 universities.

The contract has led to the construction of a world-leading ultra-high temperature furnace, capable of melting solids at temperatures of over 3000oC. These include the well-known ceramic alumina used in glass furnaces and in steel making.

Dr Dave Langstaff, a lecturer and Senior Experimental Officer at the Department Physics has been leading the work.

Dr Langstaff said; “Ceramics find application in uses as diverse as kitchen knives and jet engines and are now an important engineering material. Alumina can be not only melted with this furnace but also boiled.

“The secret is to levitate specimens in a stream of argon gas and heat them with powerful lasers. Ultra high temperatures can be achieved because the specimen is not in contact with any solid surface, which also prevents contamination of the sample”, he added.

Another ingenious development, made more recently by Dr Langstaff, has been to wobble these liquids by pulsing the gas jet, and, by using extremely rapid imaging and unique bespoke image analysis, to measure the wobbling and hence deduce the density, surface tension and viscosity of the liquid at a particular temperature.

Results from using the previous version of the furnace in conjunction with the German aeronautics and space research agency (DLR) were published last year in Review of Scientific Instruments, the leading journal in laboratory instrumentation.

In 2013, Professor Neville Greaves, former Head of the Institute of Mathematics and Physics at Aberystwyth was elected Strategic Scientist for Wuhan University of Technology.

This contract to develop the furnace for Wuhan University of Technology was placed in May 2014 and was won on the basis of the reputation of the Physics Department in this field.

Dr Dave Langstaff and will travel to China in early 2015 to install the furnace in a special new laboratory for 'Materials under Extreme Conditions' being established at Wuhan University of Technology.