(Inside Science TV) – It starts small, but a little corrosion can lead to full-on rust, and destroy expensive metal.
Now material scientists at Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio, have developed something to spot and treat corrosion in pipelines and other valuable metals. They're called "smart corrosion beads".
“Corrosion basically happens under the surface, under the paint basically, and it’s very hard to detect," said Ram Lalgudi, a materials scientists at Battelle Memorial Institute.
The tiny beads are about half the thickness of a human hair. They can detect corrosion forming on a metal before it's even visible.
“The moment corrosion starts, so that’s the beauty of these functional beads," said Lalgudi. “So it not only detects, but it also heals."
The beads look like fine, whitish powder that can be mixed with coatings and painted on metal for protection. They glow under a special light to reveal the corrosion.
“The smart bead works because it truly reacts to the corrosion around it,” said Lalgudi.
Once corrosion is found, the material releases a specially designed chemical that can repair the metal, by filling the cracks created by corrosion.
“It will heal itself and prevent more corrosion from occurring," said Robert Cain, a research scientist at Battelle.
Scientists say it could be used on almost anything that rusts, including aircraft parts, bridges, ships and pipelines. They could protect what already exists and also improve the construction of new structures.
“The aerospace industry, I think, that was the initial thought where we could apply this technology," said Cain.
The beads will last as long as the paint lasts. The scientists have been working on this application of nanotechnology for nearly a decade.