Someone 2 Know: Taking Research to New Heights - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Someone 2 Know: Taking Research to New Heights

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Under the shiny paint on airplanes everywhere is a protective layer; a coating that prevents the aluminum from corroding. It has been used for more than 50 years, but there is one major problem with it – it is toxic! According to scientists, the chromium based coating is water-soluble, can leach into groundwater and potentially cause cancer. While this coating does not affect airplane passengers, it does concern those who apply and re-apply the special coating to military and commercial planes alike. The protective layer has to be reapplied at least once a year.

Scientists have been trying to replace this carcinogenic, anti-corrosion coating since the 1980's. The government has banned it for consumers and cars, but the aerospace industry still uses it because if a plane is damaged or scratched, the coating on commercial and military aircraft can heal itself. The coating acts like human skin and the components actually migrate to the damaged area of the aluminum to fill in and repair itself. "That's the property [researchers] haven't been able to replicate in any other coating," says Dr. Dev Chidambaram at the University of Nevada. The professor of Materials Science and Engineering has been working with graduate research assistant and Ph.D. student, David Rodriguez to change that. And sure enough, they have made a remarkable discovery!

After testing some 300 formulas, the research team says they have found a non-toxic replacement for the chromium-based coating currently being used. "Oh, I was ecstatic to see the results when [David] was doing the experiment," said a smiling Dr. Chidambaram. "It's something that's still setting in right now," said Rodriguez of their successful experiment at the Paul Laxalt Minerals Science building on campus.

What is most exciting about this discovery is knowing their research will help save lives -- especially those exposed to the coating. The protective layer has to be applied and reapplied to planes at least once a year. While it is not harmful to passengers, it is harmful to the people applying it to the planes. Rodriguez says, "Having a safe plane shouldn't come to the detriment of the people actually making it safer for the passengers." That is exactly why he and his mentor are pleased to be optimizing their discovery right now. They believe testing will last three years and they could possibly start licensing out the formula in six to nine years.

Written by Kristen Remington

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