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Two researchers at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics have been named winners of the Association for Iron & Steel Technology’s (AIST) 2017 T.C. Graham Prize, an international award meant to encourage development of new and innovative uses for steel.

Chunlei Guo, professor, and Anatoliy Vorobyev, senior scientist and a team member of Guo’s lab in the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester, will share in the $20,000 prize for their innovative laser surface-etching techniques that can imbue new properties to steel. Through the techniques that have been developed, steel surfaces can be made to either repel water, absorb water or absorb heat. These properties have a wide variety of consumer and industrial applications. Among them: easier flowing pipelines, ice-free rail tracks, reduced drag hull plates on ships and enhanced energy storage opportunities.

Guo first began his research about 10 years ago when it was unimaginable that a metal surface would turn black without the use of paint. His research team originally asked themselves, “How much heat would deposit into a metal when a laser pulse zaps the metal surface?” While complicated, Guo and his team found that they could alter metal surfaces in a dramatic way, which eventually led to the creation of black metal, colored metal, water-wicking and water-repellent surfaces.

These properties are relevant to everyday life in the following capacities:

•Black steel will transform steel to become a solar energy absorber and expand its applications in energy.
•By diffusing liquid across it surface, water-wicking steel speeds up evaporation, which is useful in cooling applications such as process water cooling and air conditioning.
•Water-repellent steel is resistant to corrosion, icing and the buildup of mineral deposits or biological growths, such as algae. Furthermore, water-repellent steel will potentially reduce friction with liquids. These surfaces are also self-cleaning as contaminants, dirt, dust and debris are readily swept away.

Published in the November 2017 Edition of American Recycler News