Engineering the perfect Christmas tree

An advanced technology lab in the Lyle Engineering School uses an electron beam to 'create' a titanium Christmas tree.

Engineering Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree that adorns the SMU Lyle School of Engineering holiday card is more than a colorfully lit symbol of the season. It's a unique and festive embodiment of the capabilities of the school's cutting-edge laboratories.

Christmas tree made using laser technologyDesigned and built in the Lyle School's Research Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), the tree features a 3-dimensional lattice structure, known for its strength and versatility in a variety of manufacturing applications. With an actual height and width of about 5 inches, the tree was "grown" in a vacuum chamber from thin layers of titanium-alloy powder and shaped by controlled melting using an electron beam.

In the holiday card photo by SMU University Photographer Hillsman S. Jackson, a high-power fiber laser stands in for a treetop star.

The RCAM refined the techniques used to construct the tree during a collaboration with Dallas' Baylor College of Dentistry, says Radovan Kovacevic, Herman Brown Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the RCAM and the Center for Laser-aided Manufacturing (CLAM).

Working with Baylor researchers, the RCAM has developed a way to manufacture a dental implant typically assembled from three pieces as a single component. The unitary construction results in devices with fewer weak points at which breaks can occur.

The technology has many other potential applications in industries ranging from medicine to aviation, Kovacevic says. In the meantime, he says, the Lyle Christmas tree "is a good example of the complexity we can achieve."

Learn more about the RCAM or see a video about the technology. video icon

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