Microscopy reveals how atom-high steps impede oxidation of metal surfaces
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. Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory
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.