Released By: Australian Synchrotron
Release Date: Wed 20 August 2008

Beating corrosion

Soon Perth scientists needing synchrotron light will be able to access the $200 million Australian Synchrotron without leaving home.

Remote access to the synchrotron came a step closer recently when Perth scientist Roland De Marco drove the synchrotron research beam in Melbourne as his colleagues and students watched in Perth.

He was researching the nature of rust - or more accurately corrosion - in the mild steel pipes that carry oil and gas from the ocean deeps to the surface.

It's a critical issue for De Marco, a Professor of Chemistry at Curtin University.

Corrosion costs account for over three per cent of Australia's GDP, and surprisingly the chemistry of corrosion is not well understood. De Marco is tackling the issue in mild steel pipes. If he can understand the chemistry, with the help of the synchrotron, then it could lead to corrosion proof treatments for industry.

"In certain critical areas in oil production stainless steel pipes are installed," he says. "But stainless steel is too expensive to produce for long expanses of pipe, so mild steel is used." But mild steel has a problem - the carbon dioxide present in the mixture of oil and seawater pumped through the pipe causes corrosion.

Using the high brilliance of synchrotron light, De Marco can view the chemistry of the metal surface in its fluid environment. "What I want to do is to develop new materials to bind to the surface that will prevent corrosion of the mild steel," says De Marco.

De Marco has had 10 visits to the Photon Factory, a synchrotron facility at Tsukuba in Japan, for his research.

Now he has some research beamtime coming up at the Australian Synchrotron in December.

His pilot study at the synchrotron last week surprised him. "I can get better results more quickly in Melbourne than in Tsukuba," explains De Marco. "In Melbourne the detector captures real-time measurements and gives you instant feedback."

In Melbourne, De Marco can detect a particular pattern after 40 seconds that would take 1200 seconds to detect in Tsukuba and he doesn't have to wait hours for the results to be processed.

But De Marco is even more excited about two developments in synchrotron access: being able to use the synchrotron remotely and getting undergraduate students involved.

Professor Rob Lamb, Director of the Australian Synchrotron said "remote access will vastly increase the utility of this national facility and will mean every corner of Australia as well as our overseas collaborators will have easy access to synchrotron science".

Last week's experiment was broadcast back to Perth live. In the future, the remote students will be able to get the full hands-on experience, directing the experiment themselves.

Remote access is currently set up for the protein crystallography beamline, which is being used by students in Queensland. The remote access project, known as the virtual beamline, is being supported by VeRSI, the Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative.

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