Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Preventing another Flint, Mich.; new research could lead to more corrosion-resistant water pipes


With documented public water problems in Flint, Mich., and Hoosick Falls, N.Y., caused by corrosion, understanding how copper is affected at the atomic level is critical to avoiding problems in future pipes. Corrosion-related damage costs more than three percent of the United States' Gross Domestic Product (about $503.1 billion, going by 2013 numbers).

Using state-of-the-art in situ microscopy techniques, scientists at Binghamton University were able to watch the oxidation of copper -- the primary building material for millions of miles of water piping -- at the atomic level as it was happening. What they saw could help create pipes with better corrosion resistance.

This is an in-situ atomic-scale observation of the oxidation process of a copper surface by transmission electron microscopy.

Credit: Guangwen Zhou

"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. Resistance to corrosion or oxidation is one of the most important properties for materials exposed to air or water," said Guangwen Zhou, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University and co-author on the study.

"Because water is naturally corrosive, especially for pipes carrying hot water, where the elevated temperature accelerates the oxidation/corrosion rates, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all water systems monitored for the levels of copper," Zhou added.

"The most common reason for water utilities to add corrosion inhibitors is to avoid copper corrosion. The research findings of our study on the oxidation of copper alloys can facilitate the development of new alloys with improved resistance to corrosion in water."

Beyond water pipes, observing how copper oxidizes also sheds light on maintaining material stability in nanodevices that are used in energy and medical science. Using atomic-resolution electron microscopes, scientists demonstrated that the oxidation of copper occurs via layer-to-island growth of copper oxide on flat copper surfaces with copper atoms evaporating from the surface.

Solid oxide, made of copper and oxygen atoms thermally mixing microscopically above the original surface, is deposited back on the surface. This is different from the long-held idea of a solid-solid transformation. The observation is counterintuitive because if a surface can be made more uneven, it can resist oxidation better.

"Recent advances in instrumentation have made it possible to investigate the oxidation of metals exposed to oxygen gas and elevated temperature with in situ measurements. Employment of these techniques can provide unique opportunities to establish the principles of controlling atomic processes of surface oxidation," Zhou said. "Using these tools, we are able to gain unprecedented insight into the oxidation mechanism of copper and copper alloys."

According to Zhou, not all oxidation is a bad thing. "(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."


Qing Zhu, Wissam A. Saidi, and Judith C. Yang from the University of Pittsburgh are all co-authors of the study, along with Binghamton graduate student Lianfeng Zou.

The study, "Early and transient stages of Cu oxidation: Atomistic insights from theoretical simulations and in situ experiments" was published in Surface Science.

Media Contact

Guangwen Zhou


Guangwen Zhou | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht Study explains strength gap between graphene, carbon fiber
20.10.2016 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>