Some research has a very long incubation time. Last month, we published a short paper that describes the initial results of research that started just after I arrived in Liverpool in 2011. There are various reasons for our slow progress, including our caution about the validity of the original idea and the challenges of working across discipline boundaries. However, we were induced to rush to publication by the realization that others were catching up with us [see blog post and conference paper]. Our title does not give much away: ‘Characterisation of metal fatigue by optical second harmonic generation‘.
Second harmonic generation or frequency doubling occurs when photons interact with a non-linear material and are combined to produce new photons with twice the energy, and hence, twice the frequency and half the wavelength of the original photons. Photons are discrete packets of energy that, in our case, are supplied in pulses of 2 picoseconds from a laser operating at a wavelength of 800 nanometres (nm). The photons strike the surface, are reflected, and then collected in a spectrograph to allow us to evaluate the wavelength of the reflected photons. We look for ones at 400 nm, i.e. a shift from red to blue.
The key finding of our research is that the second harmonic generation from material in the plastic zone ahead of a propagating fatigue crack is different to virgin material that has experienced no plastic deformation. This is significant because the shape and size of the crack tip plastic zone determines the rate and direction of crack propagation; so, information about the plastic zone can be used to predict the life of a component. At first sight, this capability appears similar to thermoelastic stress analysis that I have described in Instructive Update on October 4th, 2017; however, the significant potential advantage of second harmonic generation is that the component does not have to be subject to a cyclic load during the measurement, which implies we could study behaviour during a load cycle as well as conduct forensic investigations. We have some work to do to realise this potential including developing an instrument for routine measurements in an engineering laboratory, rather than an optics lab.
Last week, I promised weekly links to posts on relevant Thermodynamics topics for students following my undergraduate module; so here are three: ‘Emergent properties‘, ‘Problem-solving in Thermodynamics‘, and ‘Running away from tigers‘.