Rockwell's materials engineers are interested in protecting the metal parts the company manufactures like enclosures that house electronics, for example from high humidity, temperature and industrial contaminants.
Aita's unique nanolaminate coating is applied to the metal surface in ultra-thin layers, and together they adjust in response to a wide range of adverse conditions. The tiny crystals in the layers transform to surround and contain the defect.
Aita's work has applications in many industries, including manufacturing, optical products and biomedical devices, an area in which she holds two patents.
Taped to a wall in her lab is a magnified image of a hole in the type of stainless steel used in artificial joints. "Imagine if that was in your hip replacement," she says. "Our coatings can prevent that from happening."
They do it by adjusting to conditions within the human body that can cause hairline cracks to form in heart valves or holes in artificial joints, for example, preventing implant rejection or failure.
Relying on 'Dorothy'
Achieving the right characteristics for these protective coatings depends on choosing the right combination of elements and manipulating them to act in a precise way.
For the Rockwell project, the team in Aita's Advanced Coatings Experimental Laboratory (AceLab) uses hafnia, zirconia and alumina in their smart ceramic coatings for metal.
"We engineer these to behave differently than they would in a ceramic with a larger microstructure," says Elizabeth Hoppe, the AceLab manager and a Ph.D. student of Aita's.
"We grow the film in layers so that the growth of tiny crystals within a layer is stopp
|Contact: Carolyn Aita|
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee