Solid lubricant research paves the way for more reliable aircraft

Thomas Scharf
Dr. Thomas Scharf, associate professor of materials science and engineering
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Friction and wear can be devastating to complex mechanical systems, especially systems that operate under extreme conditions. For instance, thermal cycling in jet engines can cause accelerated wear, which can lead to mechanical failures and higher maintenance costs.

Dr. Thomas Scharf, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UNT, is working on developing high temperature solid lubricants that would minimize the negative effects of friction and wear. Scharf and Dr. Jincheng Du, an assistant professor of materials science at UNT, are working on a project funded by a $282,079 National Science Foundation grant, which will study how changes to the structure and chemistry of solid oxide lubricants can influence their high temperature properties.

The three-year NSF project began this month and will include computational and experimental elements. Scharf will use advanced electron microscopy and chemical spectroscopy tools housed in UNT's Center for Advanced Research and Technology, to gain insight into how structural and chemical changes can improve the friction and wear resistance of lubricants.

Scharf also is part of a national team that was awarded a $749,080 Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant from the Department of Defense to develop solid lubricants to coat bearings that are used in high temperature environments. The project is specifically targeted at developing lubricants for the aerospace industry, such as coating the main thrust bearings in the LiftFan®, identified by Rolls Royce, as a major component of the engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Earlier this year, Scharf received the 2011 Al Sonntag award from the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers as recognition for his paper on the use of novel tungsten disulphide nanocomposite coatings as a lubricant for rolling elements and ball bearings. The Sonntag Award was established in 1983 to honor the STLE member or members authoring the best paper on solid lubricants published by the society during the preceding year.

Scharf has been a professor at UNT since 2005. He is the director of the Laboratory for Moving Mechanical Assemblies, and a key member of the university's Institute for Science and Engineering Simulation. ISES was launched in 2008 by a multi-million dollar government contract to study the causes of jet engine failure and how to develop stronger, more durable engines.

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