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A student participating in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholar program is exploring the effects of a special kind of corrosion on a variety of stainless steel alloys.

In EXCEL, students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend. James LaBuz ’04, a chemical engineering major from Drums, Pa., is working with Ricardo J. Bogaert-Alvarez, assistant professor of chemical engineering, on using a method called Electrochemical Noise Analysis (ENA) to study the susceptibility of steel to pitting corrosion.

Pitting is a form of localized corrosion that unexpectedly and sometimes dangerously gouges holes in the metal. In ENA, the natural currents running between two electrodes immersed in a saline solution are measured.

“I use electrodes that I polish until they’re perfectly uniform. There’s an apparatus in which I place the electrodes in a saline solution,” says LaBuz. “I leave them in the solution for 48 hours. The machine takes the data. When it’s done, I look at the electrodes and at the damage that has been done to them.”

LaBuz counts the pits on the surface and uses microscopic techniques to measure the depth. “I compare the maximum pit depth, the total amount of pits and the average pit, and try to make a connection to the amount of electrical current,” he adds. “Will higher voltage mean more pitting? I’m looking at various electrodes — different types of stainless steel alloys.”

Those include one numbered 403, which became so covered in general corrosion, or rust, during the experiments that “you couldn’t count the pits,” the student says. In another called 276, he says, “the attack was much different.”

“It was entirely pitting, but there weren’t that many,” LaBuz says, adding that much damage occurred on the sides of the electrodes, so that in the next experiment, with a steel numbered 304, he observed both the tops and sides of the electrodes.

“It’s definitely interesting. I wasn’t really familiar with it before,” says LaBuz, who may plan a pharmaceutical career. “It’s nice to make these correlations. I started out knowing nothing. Now I’m piecing it together like a mystery.”

Bogaert-Alvarez says LaBuz’s work “is going very well. He has finished running all his experiments and he has been able to improve on the method.”

In the last week of work, the student was expected to summarize his findings with the possibility of writing a conference paper.

LaBuz believes EXCEL is a great program. “You can work a certain amount of hours each week, and it’s very student-based. You can work at your own pace,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know the professor and take in some knowledge about other chemical fields.”

He also enjoys being on campus at a relaxed time of the year, soon to end when school resumes.

A graduate of Hazleton High School, LaBuz is a member of Lafayette’s chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He lifts weights and plays piano at Sunday religious services on campus.

Categorized in: Academic News