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The strength of steel is proverbial, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved. It's heavy, after all, and there are stronger metals out there. But researchers in South Korea have created an alloy that's as strong as titanium, lighter than ordinary steel, and cheap to boot. The new alloy, described in the journal Nature, is created by allying the steel with aluminum — this lightens the steel, but also makes it weak. To counter that weakness, the team added a dash of manganese and a sprinkle of nickel, while modifying the way the metal crystals form at the nanometer scale. This new alloy has no flashy name just yet but is referred to as High Specific Strength Steel. It has an even better strength-to-weight ratio than the far more expensive titanium.

An electron microscope image of the new alloy's structure.
An electron microscope image of the new alloy's structure.Nature

This may bring steel back to industries where light, strong materials have become key, in particular the manufacturing of cars and planes. There's already interest in getting HSSS to the production line, so you may expect to see it (or ride in it) within the next few years.

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