This months Canadian Chemical News features an interview with Gino Palumbo, our CEO and President, regarding Integran's nanocrystalline metal (nanometal) electroplating and the history behind it.
Regarding the history of Integran, Gino says:
In the 1980s, many other researchers were trying to reduce grain size by vaporizing metal, condensing it into tiny crystals, then re-compacting it into a fine structure. This involved very expensive equipment, which we didn’t have access to here in Canada. At the time, I was working at Ontario Hydro’s research division, in collaboration with Professor Uwe Erb, who was then at Queen’s University (he’s now at the University of Toronto). Together, we took a kind of chemical engineering approach, trying to get very fine crystals by modifying conventional electroplating processes.
When you first start electroplating, you cause the nucleation of crystals. If you use a direct current (DC) configuration, you’re just growing the crystals that you’ve already nucleated. But by pulsing the current, you can force nucleation to start anew with every pulse, which keeps the grain size very small. Combined with some changes in bath chemistry, the application of current pulse waveform technology made the difference. Ours was one of the first U.S. patents ever issued in the area of nanotechnology.
So how does this change the material properties?
Inside a bulk metal, all the atoms are lined up in tiny crystals. Where the orientation of those atoms changes, you have what’s called the grain boundary. When metals deform, there are actually ripples in the material. It’s difficult for these ripples to move across grain boundaries, so the closer together those barriers are, the harder it is to deform the material. In conventional materials, the grain sizes are in the range of 10 to 30 micrometres; we reduce that down to 30 nanometres, and we can get a seven-fold increase in strength and in hardness.
There are other functional benefits: increased corrosion resistance, for example. We also see reduced friction coefficients for reasons we don’t yet completely understand. And since many of our materials are ferromagnetic in nature, we tend to see some interesting magnetic properties.
There are lots of other interesting tidbits in the article about our material, applications and history if you are interested.
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