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Stop That Corrosion - If You Can

Tun2006b.htm

Zin Tun, Jamie NoŽl, Dave Shoesmith
La physique au Canada, septembre/octobre 2006

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Notes by Dr. Zin Tun

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In the Spring 1836, Michael Faraday received a letter from Prof. Schoenbein, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Bale [1]. Schoenbein lamented how slow German periodicals were in getting scientific papers published, and apologized for taking the liberty of writing directly to Faraday. Schoenbein further presented observations he had made recently by dipping iron wires into a strong nitric acid where, under certain conditions, iron seemed to be fully protected from the acid. Faraday repeated Schoenbein's experiments for verification, carried out investigations of his own, and proposed tentatively that the passivation of iron was caused by the growth of a thin oxide layer on the wire. This body of work was published in the Philosophical Magazine [2] later in the year.

The scientific study of passive oxide on metals thus started continues to this day. It is fair to question if there is anything more to discover in such an old area of research. After all, we now know Faraday's proposal is basically correct [3]. The continued interest in the phenomenon is due to several factors, each providing a compelling reason. First, the problem is interesting in its own right, involving the not well-understood solid-state ion transport. Also there remains some fundamental issues not fully resolved. For instance, even the composition and structure of the oxide are still matters of controversy [3]. Second, we all realize that metal passivity, if it were fully understood and controlled, would have major impact, not only for industry but for the whole society. This promise drives researchers to continue looking for a unifying model or explanation, such as a recipe for growing an passive oxide that would effectively stop corrosion of any metal under any environmental condition. We are fully aware that a general recipe may not exist given that intrinsic properties of metals (alloys included) and their oxides vary enormously. Nevertheless, even if we do not achieve such a lofty goal, the research will still be worthwhile since we will no doubt come across some interesting phenomena as we work in this rich field of research. Finally, the very fact that a thin layer of atoms, often not more than 10 crystallographic unit cells if it were an ordered structure, is capable of stopping this omnipresent agent of destruction -- corrosion -- is intriguing. It has captured many researchers' interest in the past and is likely to do so in the foreseeable future.

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CHANCE FAVOURS THE PREPARED MIND, BUT ...

[If you would like to read the whole article, click on: Tun&co2006_PiC.pdf]

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Notes by Dr. Zin Tun

 

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