Posted in | News | Aluminum / Aluminium

Using TEM to Uncover Aluminum Corrosion at an Atomic Level

Researchers at Binghamton University are exploring how Environmental Transmission Electron Microscopy (ETEM) can be leveraged to understand corrosion at an atomic level. Their findings could affect ongoing efforts both in the fields of corrosion resistance and clean energy production.

Image Credit: J.J. Gouin/

The economic burden caused by repairing structures damaged by corrosion is estimated at around $2.5 trillion each year, according to the Institute of Corrosion. Developing methods to prevent or manage rusting could, therefore, have significant practical and economic benefits.

Alongside collaborators from the University of Pittsburgh and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Professor Guangwen Zhou of Binghamton University has published new research outlining how aberration-corrected environmental electron microscopy (ETEM) can observe surface reactions of samples when exposed to water vapor under realistic pressure and temperature conditions. This allows greater understanding of surface phenomena in technologically relevant conditions.

Although corrosion, or rusting, is well understood across small lengths and time scales in the lab in order to reveal structural properties within an adlayer of condensed water, knowing what happens on an atomic scale under realistic conditions is harder to pinpoint.

The researchers focused on the reactions that occur between water vapor and aluminum in their research, looking for ways to control and prevent them. 

The scientists were able to illustrate how water vapor directly induces these transformations of the metal lattice into oxides at room temperature, something that had never before been demonstrated at the atomic scale.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the research is the discovery of a second layer that occurs underneath the anticipated aluminum hydroxide layer. The TEM clearly showed a crystalline Al(OH)3 outer layer and an Al2O3 amorphous inner layer, making up a passivating bilayer film on the aluminum surface.

This information could have significant implications for efforts to develop corrosion resistance in aluminum as well as other metals.

Dr. Zhou also hopes that studying how the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in water react with metals could create new breakthroughs in clean energy. Aluminum has been suggested for use in hydrogen storage onboard vehicles, and investigating how clean H2 could be produced from the reaction between aluminum and water at ambient temperature could have immense repercussions.

These potential implications have led to sustained investment by the U.S. Department of Energy into Zhou’s work.

References and Further Reading

(No date a) Atomistic mechanisms of water vapor–induced surface passivation - science. Available at: (Accessed: 12 December 2023).

Kocher, C. (2023) New research examines corrosion on atomic level - binghamton news, News - Binghamton University. Available at: (Accessed: 12 December 2023).

Admin (2021) The effects of corrosion, Institute of Corrosion. Available at: (Accessed: 12 December 2023).

Skyla Baily

Written by

Skyla Baily

Skyla graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSocSc Hons in Social Anthropology. During her studies, Skyla worked as a research assistant, collaborating with a team of academics, and won a social engagement prize for her dissertation. With prior experience in writing and editing, Skyla joined the editorial team at AZoNetwork in the year after her graduation. Outside of work, Skyla’s interests include snowboarding, in which she used to compete internationally, and spending time discovering the bars, restaurants and activities Manchester has to offer!


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Baily, Skyla. (2023, December 12). Using TEM to Uncover Aluminum Corrosion at an Atomic Level. AZoM. Retrieved on June 21, 2024 from

  • MLA

    Baily, Skyla. "Using TEM to Uncover Aluminum Corrosion at an Atomic Level". AZoM. 21 June 2024. <>.

  • Chicago

    Baily, Skyla. "Using TEM to Uncover Aluminum Corrosion at an Atomic Level". AZoM. (accessed June 21, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Baily, Skyla. 2023. Using TEM to Uncover Aluminum Corrosion at an Atomic Level. AZoM, viewed 21 June 2024,

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.