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Corrosion: The Silent Menace

Becoming a successful coatings contractor takes lots of time and training. It can be a very technical job that requires an extensive amount of knowledge and the ability to adapt to many different situations. No job is exactly like another. It should be no surprise, then, that it takes many years of experience to be able to handle any type of coatings challenge. Maybe even just to be able to handle a few types of coatings challenges. Imagine, then, if you had been given the chance to start your coatings career in middle or high school (or at least heard about coatings and corrosion that early). Imagine if you had started the process 10 or 20 years earlier than you had. How much more information could you have by now? How many more experiences could you have under your belt by this time?

Not every coatings contractor had his or her first spray gun thrown into his or her hand at the age of 13. Yes, some of you did, but the majority of people in the coatings industry started a bit later in life. Frankly, some of us may just be getting into it now as adults. So for those “latecomers” (the post 13-year-olds) and others who want to encourage more interest in the coatings industry at an earlier age, a new Department of Defense (DoD) exhibit may be just the thing to help kids these days catch the coatings “bug.”

Solving the Mystery

Understanding the forces underlying the breakdown of bridges, pipelines, and waterways requires a direct experience with the science behind such mysteries. The DoD Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office is spotlighting the natural phenomena that lead to corrosion and material degradation in a novel exhibit aimed at the next generation of infrastructure preservationists.

Featuring computerized simulation games designed for middle and high school students, “Corrosion: The Silent Menace” opened on March 16, 2013 at the Orlando Science Center in Orlando, Fla.

When visitors enter, they stand beneath a 200-square-foot (19 m²) trestle bridge made of rusty steel. Beneath this towering canopy of corrosion, visitors can choose from a menu of virtual experiences that graphically depict the science of corrosion and the industrial processes used to prevent it. For users, these experiences are simulated using three-dimensional (3-D) mapping technology.

In the CorrSim Jr. game, for example, students stand in front of a TV that tracks their movements much like a Kinect home video game. “By moving their hands in front of the screen, visitors can replicate the process of sanding, blasting, priming, and painting,” noted Anne Hanson, manager of Continuing Education and Outreach at The University of Akron’s National Center for Education and Research on Corrosion and Materials Performance (NCERCAMP), Akron, Ohio. “Each of these processes is vital when coatings are properly applied to ships, aircraft, cars, trains, and commercial structures.”

“At DoD we believe middle and high school students should be exposed to the challenges that all communities face as they preserve their local infrastructure,” said Daniel J. Dunmire, director of the DoD Corrosion Office. The exhibit’s 3-D mapping technology also invites students to perform other interactive experiments to understand how engineers preserve drinking waterways, bridge and highway systems, and vital forms of public and private transportation.

At the Corrosion Rack display, students take a handheld microscope and hold it up to different coupons or samples in order to appreciate how scientists collect data to discern how environmental and weather conditions can degrade materials in different ways. “The coupons include different types of metals that have been exposed to harsh elements such as salty air, wind, rain, and saltwater,” Han-son said.

To help students understand how metal oxidizes and the chemical processes underlying erosion, for example, different examples of the 12 forms of corrosion will be hidden around the major exhibits. “Students will assume the role of inspector and seek out specific examples of fretting, pitting, and galvanic corrosion, for instance,” Hanson added.

Who’s Who of the Coatings World

“Both the Corrosion Rack and the corrosion discovery game are designed to expose students to the scientific mysteries underlying corrosion and its chemical and electrochemical origins,” said Dunmire.

At the exhibit’s Career Kiosk, students can learn from subject matter experts who maintain the myriad aircraft, ground vehicles, and facilities comprising the nation’s infrastructure. “The kiosk allows visitors to understand the entire range of career specialties that comprise the field of corrosion science and engineering,” said Susan Louscher, executive director of NCERCAMP. “At the kiosk, visitors can hear from inspectors, painters, technicians, corrosion engineers, and scientific researchers who represent industry, DoD, and universities with a corrosion engineering focus.”

“Corrosion: The Silent Menace” also features artifacts from different sectors of industry and government to underscore the chemical, electrochemical, and geological processes inherent in corrosion and degradation. “The causes of corrosion on our bridges, highways, and pipelines are rooted in complex scientific processes, and this new DoD-sponsored science exhibit unlocks the secret of those processes and how they can be mitigated,” Dunmire said.

For youngsters who aren’t growing up with a coatings gun in their hands, this exhibit may just be one of many ways to start learning about the coatings world. It can be the first step to sparking interest in becoming a coatings professional. Giving middle and high school kids the chance to learn about corrosion (and the coatings needed to counteract it) in an engaging and exciting way may be the way to build a more knowledgeable, long-lasting community from the ground up. Let’s get them hooked on the coatings “bug” now while we can!

Editor’s Note: The information in this article related to the Orlando Science Center’s DoD exhibit came from a piece written by Cynthia Greenwood, which was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of CorrDefense e-magazine at www.corrdefense.org.

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