The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has received 32 million dollars in National Science Foundation Grants. Some of that money is funding the research of microbes and biofilms that can lead to corrosion in metals. A team of researchers is preventing corrosion with two dimensional materials.
Even though his findings are big, Dr. Govind Chilkoor works out of a small office room scattered with several pieces of lab equipment. But that’s plenty of space to study two dimensional materials.
“Let’s imagine you pick up one single sheet of atom from the surface. And that one single sheet of atom would be a two dimensional material.”
A sheet of 2D material is about the width of one atom. That’s what Chilkoor’s team is using to coat metals. Chilkoor points to a thin, golden square.
“Just imagine that this copper foil is pristine, that means it has not been exposed.”
He puts sheets of copper like this into a machine that introduces them to biofilms–those naturally occuring coatings are created by microbes and cause metals to corrode.
“We expose this in a corrosion cell here. And you will have the bacteria here.”
The pieces of copper that have been exposed to biofilms without a 2D coating have dark black circles.The ones with the coating…
“There are no corrosion deposits. That means that the few layers of hexagonal boron nitride has actually protected the metal from microbial corrosion. Where as you can see for bare copper-there is a thick deposits of corrosion.”
Chilkoor says the team wants to use this process to protect metal components in things like electronics.
“Electronic components, they are in microscale.”
The miniscule metal pieces are usually protected against corrosion with a coat of polymer. But, Chilkoor says there’s room for improvement.
“But why do you have to go single layer, you might ask me. It’s very counter intuitive. Usually a thicker material is stronger. But for two dimensional material, the thinner you go, it becomes stronger.”
Chilkoor’s team is planning to use part of their grant money to purchase new lab equipment to handle 2D materials.