Fortifying materials for a more resilient world

Making metal alloys more resistant to corrosion would bring wide-ranging societal benefits

November 23, 2022

Metal corrosion is far more than merely a persistent nuisance in a modern world held together largely by the strength of its most basic and widely used materials.

The decay process is commonly triggered by chemical reactions to which metals are exposed under various environmental conditions. The damage it does to metal alloys can result in serious threats to industrial facilities, transportation, civil infrastructure, national defense, public safety and other critical structures, systems and services. Photo illustration of metal alloy material that appears to be flowing Arizona State University materials and mechanical engineering researchers are working on methods to make metal alloys more resistant to corrosion. Alloys are vital materials used in infrastructure systems, industrial facilities, transportation and technologies used in public utilities operations. Image credit: Erika Gronek, ASU / Midjourney. Download Full Image

Corroded materials have led to major problems requiring expensive repairs and replacement of technology used in manufacturing operations, oil and gas pipelines and chemical plants, as well as public utilities.

Such destruction on a large scale can destabilize major segments of national economies. Currently, it’s estimated that the accumulated effects of metals corrosion cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

So it’s more than a small step forward that mechanical engineering and materials science research at Arizona State University by Kiran Solanki and Vikrant Kumar Beura, along with Kristopher Darling from the DEVCOM Army Research Lab, has produced a new surface treatment for metal alloys that enhances corrosion resistance against a variety of environmental factors.

Solanki is a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Ira A. Futon Schools of Engineering at ASU. His research focuses on a combination of materials science and solid mechanics. Beura recently earned a doctoral degree in materials science from the Fulton Schools and is now working at Intel as a packaging research and development engineer.

Solanki developed the initial idea for the research with Darling, who he has collaborated with for several years. Beura, who Solanki advised during his doctoral studies, carried out materials processing and experimental studies, including characterization, corrosion measurements and spectroscopy measurements.

Transmission electron microscopy experiments for the research were performed by Yashaswini Karanth, a materials science and engineering doctoral student and graduate research assistant in  Solanki’s lab.

Solanki and Beura teamed to develop new treatment for metal alloys

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Professor Kiran Solanki and recent Fulton Schools doctoral graduate Vikrant Beura teamed up to conduct materials and mechanical engineering research and develop a new treatment for metal alloys. The surface treatment promises to strengthen these important metals against the environmental conditions and other factors that cause them to corrode. Photo courtesy Kiran Solanki

Ramping up robustness of metal alloys

In their paper published earlier this year in the research journal npj Materials Degradation, the researchers detail the intricacies of metal alloys corrosion and their search for ways to make alloys more corrosion resistant.

“We have designed a treatment to both enhance the performance of alloys and give them a longer life span,” Solanki says. “Our patent-pending process changes the surface morphology of metallic alloys in ways that enable them to perform better in aggressive environments.”

Equally as important, the treatment improves corrosion resistance without a loss of the alloys’ overall strength. That has been a particular drawback of previous trial-and-error processing techniques, Solanki says. The treatment also works especially well on aluminum-based alloys used in the aerospace, automotive and naval industries.

The research project is based in a deep understanding of morphology, which in materials science and engineering involves the close study of the microstructure of materials — in this case, metal alloys. The microstructure features of materials used for many of these alloys determine the form, size, shape and basic overall architecture of the metal objects and structures built with them. These microstructures dictate the alloys’ physical and chemical properties.

“We’ve learned to change the morphology of the surface of a metal alloy by either changing the internal microstructure or by adding different alloy elements,” Solanki says. “So, when we do these treatments, we can coat the surface with different kinds of alloying elements.”

Solanki and Beura’s treatment alters the internal microstructure and oxide layers of alloys, making their surfaces more resistant to the kinds of gasses, liquids, salts, acids and varying temperatures that can corrode metallic materials.

This technique may be the first of its kind capable of significantly boosting the resilience of metal alloys, but the researchers already see possibilities of further advances.

“There are a combination of other factors we are exploring now that could improve the coating treatment and make alloy materials stronger,” Solanki says.

Solanki and Beura point out that there are alloys made of aluminum, zinc, copper, manganese, titanium, nickel, magnesium and other metallic materials. This means a variety of combinations of surface treatments will likely be needed to provide effective corrosion resistance for all of these different metals.

They emphasize that spacecraft, aircraft, ships and automobiles will each need specific combinations and applications of treatments to best protect them from wear and tear in the different environments and conditions in which they are used.

illustration shows failure of aircraft landing gear due to stress corrosion

The first picture shows the failure of the landing gear of an aircraft due to stress corrosion cracking (SCC), in which the combined effect of corrosion and continuous application of cyclic load led to crack propagation. Such catastrophic events can be avoided by improving corrosion resistance and the hardness of the surface layer of these components. The subsequent figures show the schematic representation of the novel surface treatment method that Solanki’s team has developed and successfully implemented on a model high-strength aluminum alloy (i.e., AA7075) frequently used in aerospace applications. This treatment has induced a gradient nano-grained layer along forming metastable nanoscale phases that have, in combination, contributed toward improved corrosion resistance. More details on the work can be found in the team's recently published manuscript. Illustration by Vikrant Kumar Beura

Eyeing a future of more sustainable metallic materials

Solanki and Beura are confident their research will provide fundamental building blocks for devising new formulas and methods to develop treatments that can be adapted to a broader range of metallic surfaces.

One of the next steps they foresee is investigating the of possibilities of alloys development starting at the atomic structure level, which may reveal other new ways to provide protection against corrosive elements and environments.

Solanki, Beura and others have already begun looking at alloy development at the granular and nanometer scales as a viable method of producing new or improved surface treatments.

“There are different kinds of particles and precipitates that increase corrosion in alloys,” Solanki says. “The question is whether we can change the features of such particles and their corrosive effects by fragmenting them or dissolving them.”

Other scientists and engineers are also exploring the potential of altering the microstructures of various kinds of materials in ways that make them more corrosion resistant.

Beura explains that varying the chemical compositions of surface treatments and how they are applied and distributed on the surfaces could also have an impact on how effectively they can prevent corrosion.

“Instead of heavily concentrating treatment materials across an entire alloy surface, maybe spreading the treatment material out thinly might work better in some cases,” Solanki says.

The researchers also see a particular need for more awareness of corrosion resistance in metal alloys used in construction, especially bridges and in the infrastructure of buildings. They note, for instance, that corrosion in plumbing systems can leak toxic metals like lead and copper into drinking water.

Solanki and Beura are scheduled to present their research findings in March at TMS 2023, the annual meeting and exhibition of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society in San Diego, California.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


New project places personal stories at center of democracy research

November 23, 2022

In a time of question and doubt for many Americans about the future of democracy in the U.S., a group of units at Arizona State University have partnered to create the Defending Democracy project.

Defending Democracy, created by the Center for the Study of Religion and ConflictThe Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, the Narrative Storytelling Initiative and the Center for Work and Democracy, asks Americans to share their personal experiences with attacks on and threats to democracy in their community. Red-and-white-striped fabric frames a view of blurred blue-and-white lights. Download Full Image

The project is an effort to spotlight the kinds of attacks Americans have experienced and witnessed and the variety of ways Americans have pushed back against anti-democratic forces in their everyday lives. The project is accepting submissions of 150–400 words or 1–2-minute videos at

“We launched Defending Democracy with a sense of urgency and hope that this public outreach can shed new insights on both specific actions and underlying motives,” says Steven Beschloss, director of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “The Narrative Storytelling Initiative is committed to transdisciplinary projects that draw on academic expertise and meaningful public input, and that positively address relevant societal challenges.”

The Defending Democracy team recognizes the need to hear the stories of everyday Americans when attempting to study and understand the current state of American democracy. This project is an opportunity for scholars at ASU and beyond to study the thoughts and experiences of real Americans alongside the cultural, historical and political contexts that usually drive academic work in this area. 

“This new project provides an opportunity for everyday citizens — rather than pundits and politicians — to say in their own words what democracy means to them and to register how they see it being threatened,” says John Carlson, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and associate professor of religious studies.

The aim of the Defending Democracy project is to capture and understand the scale and variety of anti-democratic encounters, and to create hope for democracy’s future by amplifying the voices of those individuals seeking to sustain democracy within their communities. 

“In a democracy, everyone has a voice and a right to participate,” Carlson says. “This platform provides a way for Americans — Arizonans especially — to share stories, incidents or encounters in which there has been an effort to suppress, undermine or attack these democratic rights and responsibilities. We want to hear how Americans are actually experiencing democracy — and threats to it — as they go about their daily lives.”

The Defending Democracy team anticipates that these personal stories or accounts will be a source of vital information about the current state of American democracy from the very specific perspective of lived experience. 

“We’re eager to hear from our fellow citizens and to hear what they are experiencing in their lives,” Carlson says. “Depending on what we learn, we also hope to offer some constructive suggestions and proposals for improving the health of our democratic body politic.”

The submitted essays and videos will be used to guide academics who are researching and writing about the current reality and future of democracy; a multidisciplinary collection of ASU scholars and thinkers who are joining forces to reflect on this particular time in American history and the motivating narratives influencing the public’s understanding of and response to democracy. The Defending Democracy team also hopes to share the insights gained from the submissions through a series of essays, but they are also open to other, more innovative uses for the submissions as well.

“While we can imagine sharing the results in expected ways in written form or as videos, we are also considering the possibility of sharing the collection in audio, as a tapestry of voices and experiences, or even working with actors to help bring the submissions to life,” Beschloss says. “We also intend to partner with outside media organizations to share and amplify what we learn.” 

Although the content and quantity of the submissions will ultimately determine the outcome of the project, the team is optimistic about the possibilities early on. They anticipate that the project will be a catalyst for important conversations about American democracy.

“We think the issues surrounding threats to democracy are not only serious, they represent an existential danger to the country,” Beschloss says. “We hope the project will encourage thoughtful discourse, within ASU and beyond.”

Communications Coordinator, Narrative Storytelling Initiative