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A special kind of corrosion that burrows quickly and unexpectedly into steel is the focus of a Lafayette College student’s research this summer.

Jaclyn Sekula ’03, a chemical engineering major, is testing a stainless steel alloy called carbon 316, using a new method to evaluate pitting corrosion in real-life conditions. The method is called electrochemical noise analysis.

“I’m working with only one metal, to find out more about this method,” says Sekula.

A participant in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholar program, she is working with Ricardo J. Bogaert-Alvarez, assistant professor of chemical engineering. In EXCEL, students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend.

There are two types of corrosion, Sekula explains: general corrosion, which is rust, and microscopic pitting, which can occur suddenly and dangerously in metal exposed to ocean water. The alloy she is examining is used in chemical, food and pharmaceutical processing.

According to Bogaert-Alvarez, pitting has been studied mainly through cyclic polarization, an electrochemical technique that determines through the application of a voltage scan the pitting potential of the metal. However, it measures pitting in an artificial manner and shows only if the metal is susceptible to pitting, not if it will pit under actual working conditions, he says.

In this summer’s experiment, Sekula will use ENA to determine the resistance to pitting of carbon 316 under varying conditions including the length of exposure, the pH and chloride concentration.

“I really like the EXCEL program. It’s a great way to keep kids on campus,” she notes.

Sekula says she doesn’t expect to conduct research as career, but as a “people person” may go into management.

“Most undergraduates don’t get to do this. It’s such a privilege,” she says of EXCEL. “Most people who know the value of it are excited about it.”

Bogaert-Alvarez, she says, is “just great.” “It really like him. He’s very determined.”

A graduate of Lake High School in Hartville, Ohio, Sekula is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Association of Lafayette Women, the Straight Edge and French clubs, and Played Out. She expects to join QUEST in the fall. Sekula spent the spring semester studying abroad in Belgium.

Categorized in: Academic News