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The Bounty of Nothingness: New Opportunities

By: , Posted on: October 16, 2015

chawla gladyz

We may think of empty space as nothingness – space that’s perhaps waiting to be filled with something useful – but scientists and engineers know that the voids are intrinsically valuable. They can fortify structures to make them stronger without burdening them with weight. The ability to manipulate that nothingness brings new opportunities to many fields, especially in deep sea exploration.

“Extra weight takes energy to move,” says Dr. Krishan Chawla, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US. A point that is especially key when specifying and installing solutions such as drill risers offshore; the bigger the pipe and the deeper the oil well, the heavier the riser will become. With this comes risk of damage or failure as well as requirements for bigger and more expensive rigs that can cater to the additional weight.

However, through the use of high–tech hollow glass microspheres (HGMS) this issue can be overcome. By combining glass and air in this way, manufacturers can incorporate high performance microspheres into a wide range of polymer and resin systems to create composite solutions such as subsea foam buoyancy, which meet demanding strength and weight specifications.

Trelleborg’s Eccospheres

For drill riser buoyancy (DRBM) applications, the system is fitted along the length of the drilling riser to reduce its weight to a manageable level. This critical development is enabling the expansion of exploration and resource recovery to ultra-deepwater fields.

Chawla and Dr. Gary Gladysz, Partner/Owner of Empyreus LLC (previously VP of R&D within Trelleborg’s offshore operation in the U.S.), have dedicated a good part of their careers to the study of voids to help bring better understanding to this essential feature. The pair released their book ‘Voids in Materials: From Unavoidable Defects to Designed Cellular Materials’ (Elsevier, 2014) in September.

Chawla notes that while books on polymer foams are not unusual in engineering science, their publisher found their approach – looking at materials and functionality through the lens of the void – to be unique. “The point of view we are taking in this book is that all materials have voids at some level, and we can control the size and distribution of these voids to design the materials with specific properties and characteristics,” he says.

Portraits of Dr. Krishan Chawla and Dr. Gary Gladsz, authors of the book Voids in Materials: From Unavoidable Defects to Designed Cellular Materials.

Both scientists say that voids are rarely recognized for their value. “Voids are everywhere whether you want them there or not – you just have to deal with them,” says Gladysz. “Solid or not, there’s void space that adds functionality to all materials. It’s about building materials up from that atomic scale through nanoscale on up to the macroscale while incorporating voids at each level to add functionality. This approach will bring about combinations of functionalities that have never been done before.”

Chawla says that the implications for future research are great. “We go to great lengths in the book about how to understand the role of voids and how we can use them profitably to design new materials,” he says. “Biomaterials is one of the areas that we think will be very important in the very near future for implants.”

The authors hope that their book will provide a road map for designers. “Maybe we can incorporate more functionality into materials and components by incorporating voids on different scales,” says Gladysz. “At universities very few foams courses are offered, but the applications are vast. It’s hardly ever mentioned. We want to raise awareness of what happens with voids and what happens with these materials.”

Chawla and Gladysz say they hope to hear from industry experts and scientists interested in incorporating voids into their work. “We are creating an energy around looking at materials and the functionality that voids contribute,” says Chawla.

This article, kindly supplied by Trelleborg: text Trish Riley photos Steven St. John, originally ran in Issue 1-2015 of Trelleborg’s T-Time customer magazine.

Download the full issue and further volumes at:–magazine

About the book:

Voids in Materials coverVoids in Materials, From Unavoidable Defects to Designed Cellular Materials

By Gary M. Gladysz and Krishan K. Chawla, published November 2014

The book covers all aspects of voids and how they affect the properties of materials: from deleterious effects of voids on conventional materials to purposely designed cellular materials and foams.

For more information or to buy online, in print or electronic format please visit the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215” at checkout for up to 30% off!

More about Trelleborg Group:

Trelleborg is a world leader in engineered polymer solutions that seal, damp and protect critical applications in demanding environments. Our innovative engineered solutions accelerate performance for our customers in a sustainable way.


Trelleborg’s Eccospheres® combine glass and air to create voids. They are thin walled, hollow glass microspheres (HGMS) developed to meet the demanding strength, weight and electrical specifications of our clients in the aerospace, offshore and other markets. Magnification reveals the near perfect spherical shape of HGMS, which to the naked eye resemble a fine, white, free-flowing powder. The unique properties of Eccospheres can help reduce costs, enhance specific properties and improve material processing. Eccospheres can be incorporated into a wide range of polymer and resin systems and can replace or combine with other materials to create composites, many of which are used in critical applications in demanding offshore environments.

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Materials Science

The highly interdisciplinary field of materials science examines elements of applied physics and chemistry, as well as chemical, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering. Nanoscience and nanotechnology in particular have yielded major innovations in this area, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. Elsevier’s authoritative content in this area ranges from undergraduate textbooks to multi-volume reference works investigating the relationships between the structure of materials and their properties. Our journals (including Materials Today), books, and eBooks help researchers stay abreast of developments in this swiftly advancing field, coving major sub-disciplines like energy and power; metals and alloys; ceramics; composite materials; polymer science and biomaterials; interdisciplinary materials science; and structural materials.