by Brooks Hays
Binghamton, N.Y. (UPI) May 3, 2016
To prevent another Flint, Mich., researchers at Binghamton University have been working to better understand the process of corrosion.
Because the vast majority of water-carrying pipes are made of copper, scientists at Binghamton have been working to understand the oxidation of copper at the atomic level.
"Oxidation of metals [the loss of electrons at the molecular or atomic level] is a universal reaction caused by the simple fact that the oxide of most metals is more stable than the metal itself," researcher Guangwen Zhou explained in a news release. "Resistance to corrosion or oxidation is one of the most important properties for materials exposed to air or water."
Like lead or iron, corroded copper can leach into the passing water and accumulate in the body, causing heart disease and other health problems.
Zhou and his colleagues, whose findings were published in the journal Surface Science this week, believe their research will inspire water pipes with improved resistance to corrosion.
Using atomic-resolution electron microscopes, Zhou and his research partners were able to zoom in on the oxidation process. They found surface copper atoms are evaporated, copper and oxygen atoms mix above the copper surface, and once enjoined as solid oxide are deposited back on the surface, a process called "layer-to-island growth."
The oxidation process makes an uneven surface, which, counter-intuitively, makes the surface more resistant to corrosion.
"[Oxidation] can lead to the formation of a protective layer against corrosion attack," he said. "Our results establish the principles of predicting the trend for promoting or suppressing the oxidation of materials, which is much needed for smarter utilization to steer the reaction toward the desired direction for real applications such as corrosion resistance or improved chemical catalysis."
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