Conspicuous Applications of Advanced Ceramics a special exhibition at The International Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred

William J. Walker, Jr., Ph.D.

Ceramic Engineer and Guest Curator

June 24 - September 25, 1997

Ceramics have been around for tens of thousands of years, but in recent years, a new class of ceramic materials has been developed by scientists and engineers. These new ceramics are highly engineered to achieve high performance and are commonly referred to as "advanced ceramics." Chemically, they are oxides, carbides and nitrides. Most do not occur in nature.

Illustrate knowledge and skills via creative and/or academic research.

This exhibit looks at how these new materials are beginning to be used by designers and artists. Advanced ceramics, and in fact many traditional ceramics, are usually found in behind-the-scenes applications such as electronic components, cutting tools, etc. These technical applications are certainly interesting, and can be beautiful, stimulating and inspirational. But now these materials are beginning to emerge into the realm of everyday life -- the domain of product designers; and a few artists are beginning to use them as the raw materials for their expression.

Public perception of ceramic materials has been influenced by two headline news phenomena: the ceramic space shuttle tiles and the high temperature ceramic superconductors. Because of these two developments and the publicity surrounding them, ceramics began to be perceived as modern, high tech, high performance materials. Some designers and manufacturers have already recognized this and this exhibition is intended to recognize them. It is also intended to send a hint to those who have not yet noticed what is happening.


Shirts with Zirconia Buttons


Shirts with Zirconia Buttons

Fabric Shirts with Zirconia Zirconia buttons are very strong and resistant to chemicals, so they hold up extremely well to commercial laundering. These buttons will easily outlast the shirts.

Shirts gift from Nordstrom; buttons gift from Coors Ceramic Company


ceramic wrist watch


Ceramica Wristwatch

Watch Making
"In the framework of the very latest in high technology projects, the material high-tech ceramics is presently experiencing a phenomenal boom. During the early 1980s, Rado began to use high-tech ceramics in watch-making. Decisive factors for this were the scratchproofness and durability, but also the natural beauty, the intense brilliance and the special skin-friendliness of this material."

Ceramic Watch gift from Rado Watch Company, Inc.; Rubber Gloves (bisqued) gift from The Hall China Company (1997)



Cosmetics Containing Ceramic
Boron Nitride Powder

"These products contain Boron Nitride, a raw ingredient used in the ceramic industry. The Boron Nitride used in our products is of cosmetic grade, meaning that the impurities have been removed by the manufacturer for cosmetic use. We use the ingredient because of its unequaled slip and positive effect on application to the skin." Boron nitride powder is composed of flat, hexagonal, plate-like crystals that can freely slide over one another, which gives the powder a lubricious, silky texture.

Elizabeth Arden EyeColor Naturals, CheekColor Natural and Dual Perfection Makeup, 1997, gift from Elizabeth Arden; Boron Nitride Powder gift from Carborundum Company, Boron Nitride Division, Tres BN Boron Nitride Powder for cosmetics.

Femoral Head Hip Component on Co-Cr Aalloy Shaft and X-ray


Femoral Head Hip Component on
Co-Cr Aalloy Shaft and X-ray

Ceramic Hip Joint
Magnesia partially stabilized zirconia (Mg-PSZ), sintered, ground, polished and laser engraved

Hip component gift of Nick Burlingame and Paul Johnson, Xylon Ceramic Materials, Inc.; X-ray on loan from Xylon Ceramic Materials, Inc.

skis and boot liner














Elan SRC Ceramic K Skis, 1993
- ceramic fibers interwoven with
fiberglass laminate; K2 Four and Merlin
Smark Skis with piezoelectric
components and "twanger";
Raichle ceramic fit ski boot liner

The ceramic fibers interwoven with fiberglass laminate improves strength and dampening of vibrations, allowing better control of the skis.

Piezoelectric ceramic materials have the property that if they are deformed, they generate an electric field, and conversely, if they are subjected to an electric field, they deform. The piezoelectric devices in these skis do both...they detect vibrations and then act as actuators to cancel them out, so the skier has better control on the slopes. This "smart materials" technology was first developed to dampen vibrations in optical components of the "Star Wars" weapons system. The smart skis, with a piezo control module by Active Control eXperts, Inc., are the first commercial product using this technology.

"The Raichle Ceramic Fit System consists of a naturally ventilated pocket, divided into chambers filled with microscopically small hollow ceramic balls, in the inner boot. The balls immediately adjust to the individual contours of the foot when the boot is put on. The air is forced out of the ceramic pocket when the boot is fastened and the balls can not shift anymore. In this way, the Ceramic Fit System gives every foot its individual hold. The result: better control of the ski and a more direct force of transmission."

Elan SRC Ceramic K Skis (1997) gift from Alfred Sports Center; K2 Four and Merlin Smart Skis gift from K2 Corporation; Ceramic fit ski boot liner gift from Raichle Molitor USA, Inc.

ceramic scissors and knives


Ceramic Knives, Scissors
(zirconia and zirconian carbide)

Zirconia (white) and zirconium carbide (black) knives are ultra-sharp and stay sharp much longer than steel because of the extreme hardness of ceramics. They are also resistant to corrosion and staining, easy to clean and never give food a metallic taste. Zirconia scissors were developed for use in industrial applications, cutting materials that would rapidly wear out conventional steel blades. Their non-static and non-conductive properties also make them ideal for specialty industrial and scientific applications.

Knives and scissors gift from Kyocera America, Inc.

Tower Lamp and Table Tower Lamp


Tower Lamp and Table Tower Lamp
lighting units fabricated from ceramic foam

Harry Allen writes, "I am inspired by new materials. When I saw this ceramic foam, I was working on some lighting. I held it up to the sun and it was very beautiful. That's the inspiration. Then, it takes a long time, many trials and a very cooperative research partner such as Selee Corporation (the manufacturer) to make such a crazy idea work." The ceramic foam technology was developed to make filters for removing impurities from molten metal.

Lighting made by Selee Corporation; ceramic foam on loan from Harry Allen

bullet proof vest


Bullet Proof Vest,
boron carbide and Kevlar

Ceramic Armor
This armor is fabricated from boron carbide ceramic backed by reinforced plastic laminate. When a projectile impacts the armor the projectile is fractured by the ceramic. A major portion of the kinetic energy is absorbed by the ceramic, with residual energy being absorbed by the backing.

Bullet Proof Vest gift from Ceradyne, Inc.

engine parts


Ceramic Valve, Rotor Swirl Chamber,
Rocker Arm Assembly, Cam Rollers and
Glow Plug (silicon nitride)

Engine Parts
Silicon nitride is an excellent material for engine components because it is extremely hard and wear resistant, it has high stiffness with low density and can withstand extremely high temperatures and harsh chemical environments.

Engine parts on loan from Kyocera Industrial Ceramics Corporation

sporting goods


Ceramic 110 Tennis Racket
(graphite/ceramic composite);
Spikes tips (ceramic/metal composite

Sporting Goods
Ceramic 110 tennis racket on loan from Wilson Sporting Goods; Etonic golf shoes with Etonic Ceram-X tip Lifespikes purchased by museum; Coors Ceramics Company ceramic golf spikes (zirconia) gift from Coors Ceramics Co.; Cer-Mec golf spikes cermet (ceramic/metal composite) tips gift from MacNeilll Engineering Co.

Water Boy, 1996 "Thirst" Series carved honeycomb ceramics; Ceralux High Pressure Sodium Lamps containing polycrystalline alumina tubes; American Firebroom components - ceramic flotation log and Nextel mullite ceramic fabric


Water Boy, 1996 "Thirst"
Series carved honeycomb
ceramics; Ceralux High
Pressure Sodium Lamps
containing polycrystalline
alumina tubes; American
Firebroom components - ceramic
flotation log and Nextel
mullite ceramic fabric

Water Boy
High pressure sodium lamps, which are most visible as street lights that have a yellowish color, consist of a glass outer bulb which encloses a translucent polycrystalline alumina arc tube. Light is produced by an electric arc passing through combined vapors of mercury and sodium. The thermal and chemical stability of alumina meet the demands required to contain the highly corrosive vapor.

The American Fireboom is a floating containment barrier for oil spills that can withstand the high temperatures of burning crude oil. It is used to contain and burn oil spills at sea, avoiding ecological disasters to shore lines and the sea bottom. The fireboom is composed of a long chain of flotation logs made from a closed-cell ceramic foam, which are wrapped with Nextel ceramic fabric and stainless steel mesh.

Water Boy "Thirst Series" gift from the artist; Ceralux High Pressure Sodium Lamps gift from Philips Lighting; American Firebroom components on loan from American Marine Inc.

ceramic hammer


Ceramic Hammer (zirconia)

Ceramic Hammer
While a ceramic hammer may not seem that practical to use in the home or shop, pounding in a few nails with a ceramic certainly makes a point.

Ceramic Hammer gift from Coors Ceramics Company.