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One of the major challenges in engineering is the need for versatile materials to serve rapidly developing technologies. For durability and high performance in extreme environments, metals seem ideal: They are electrical and thermal conductors, damage-tolerant and able to withstand high temperatures. Ceramics offer a different set of qualities, being elastically rigid, lightweight, resistant to fatigue and oxidation and even better at enduring high temperatures. An ideal high-performance structural material for, say, jet engines would have all these qualities—and a new class of materials being explored by the authors meets the test. They are fabricating layered materials combining transition metals, carbon or nitrogen and silicon or a related material. The materials form a new class of solids, the nanolaminates, which exhibits new physics along with unusual machinability.
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