Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microscopy Reveals how Atom-High Steps Impede Oxidation of Metal Surfaces

30.12.2014

Rust never sleeps. Whether a reference to the 1979 Neil Young album or a product designed to protect metal surfaces, the phrase invokes the idea that corrosion from oxidation—the more general chemical name for rust and other reactions of metal with oxygen—is an inevitable, persistent process. But a new study performed at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals that certain features of metal surfaces can stop the process of oxidation in its tracks.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be relevant to understanding and perhaps controlling oxidation in a wide range of materials—from catalysts to the superalloys used in jet engine turbines and the oxides in microelectronics.


Brookhaven National Laboratory

Low-energy electron microscopy images of the nickel-aluminum surface before and after oxidation. The faint lines before oxidation indicate the atom-high steps that separate flat terrace sections of the crystal surface. As oxidation begins at a point on one terrace, the oxide spreads in elongated stripes along that terrace, pushing steps out of the way and bunching them closer and closer together. Eventually the bunching of steps stops the growth of the oxide stripe and another begins to form, often at right angles, to produce a grid-like pattern.


Brookhaven National Laboratory

(see above)

The experiments were performed by a team led by Guangwen Zhou of Binghamton University, in collaboration with Peter Sutter of the CFN, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The team used a low-energy electron microscope (LEEM) to capture changes in the surface structure of a nickel-aluminum alloy as "stripes" of metal oxide formed and grew under a range of elevated temperatures.

"These microscopes are not that frequently found in ordinary research labs; there are only a handful around the U.S.," Sutter said. "We have a pretty lively 'user community' of scientists who come to the CFN just to use this type of instrument."

The metal Zhou wanted to study, nickel-aluminum, has a characteristic common to all crystal surfaces: a stepped structure composed of a series of flat terraces at different heights. The steps between terraces are only one atom high, but they can have a significant effect on material properties. Being able to see the steps and how they change is essential to understanding how the surface will behave in different environments, in this case in response to oxygen, Sutter said.

Said Zhou, "The acquisition of this kind of knowledge is essential for gaining control over the response of a metal surface to the environment."

Scientists have known for a while that the atoms at the edges of atomic steps are especially reactive. "They are not as completely surrounded as the atoms that are part of the flat terraces, so they are more free to interact with the environment," Sutter said. "That plays a role in the material's surface chemistry."

The new study showed that the aluminum atoms involved in forming aluminum oxide stripes came exclusively from the steps, not the terraces. But the LEEM images revealed even more: The growing oxide stripes could not "climb" up or down the steps, but were confined to the flat terraces. To continue to grow, they had to push the steps away as oxygen continued to grab aluminum atoms from the edges. This forced the steps to bunch closer and closer together, eventually slowing the rate of oxide stripe growth, and then completely stopping it.

"For the first time we show that atomic steps can slow surface oxidation at the earliest stages," Zhou said.

However, as one stripe stops growing, another begins to form. "As the oxide stripes grow along the two possible directions on the crystal, which are at right angles to one another, one ends up with these patterns of blocks and lines that are reminiscent of the grid-based paintings by Mondrian," Sutter said. "They are quite beautiful…" and persistent after all.

In fact, scientists who've studied a different "cut," or facet, of the crystalline nickel-aluminum alloy have observed that steps on that surface had no effect on oxide growth. In addition, on that surface, aluminum atoms throughout the bulk of the crystal could participate in the formation of aluminum oxide, and the oxide stripes could overrun the steps, Zhou said.

Still the details and differences of the two types of surfaces could offer new ways scientists might attempt to control oxidation depending on their purpose.

"Oxides are not all bad," Sutter said. "They form as a protective layer against corrosion attack. They play important roles in chemistry, for example in catalysis. Silicon oxide is the insulating material on microelectronic circuits, where it plays a central role in directing the flow of current."

Knowing which kind of surface a material has and its effects on oxidation—or how to engineer surfaces with desired properties—might improve the design of these and other materials.

This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science and technology organization.

To see an electronic version of this news release with related graphics, go to:
http://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=11686

Media contact: Justin Eure, (631) 344-2347, jeure@bnl.gov

Karen Walsh | newswise

Further reports about: Brookhaven Department Oxidation aluminum oxide structure surfaces

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Atomic structure of ultrasound material not what anyone expected
21.02.2018 | North Carolina State University

nachricht Hidden talents: Converting heat into electricity with pencil and paper
20.02.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stiffness matters

22.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Magnetic field traces gas and dust swirling around supermassive black hole

22.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals

22.02.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>