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Aluminium oxide is one of the most versatile compounds in the world. It’s used in everything from glass to electronics to sunscreen and cosmetics, as well as in a wide range of industrial processes.
It is an inert, white compound that has the chemical formula Al2O3. It is often used as a filler in plastics and is also used in paper manufacture to make it more resistant to staining.
The surface of aluminum can be protected from corrosion by a layer of aluminum oxide, which is very stable in most pH ranges. This layer is a hard, whitish-colored film of the aluminum metal or hydrated oxide in non-stagnant water.
However, if this surface layer is damaged, corrosion can occur quickly. This is known as stress corrosion cracking, and it can happen even if the metal is protected from oxygen.
This process occurs when the aluminium surface oxide is exposed to oxygen and placed under stress. Led by MIT graduate student Yang Yang, the team developed a new method to study this process using a special transmission electron microscope called an environmental transmission electron microscope (E-TEM).
Most TEMs require that samples be studied in vacuum, but the E-TEM can be used in the presence of gases or liquids. This allows the researchers to examine the surface of aluminum in real-world situations.