U.Va.’s Corrosion Research Center Receives International Award

Award honors sustained contributions to the field of corrosion science and engineering.

By Melissa Maki
Rob Kelly and John Scully

Rob Kelly and John Scully
Photo by Melissa Maki

The University of Virginia’s Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering (CESE) has been chosen for the 2009 National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) Distinguished Organization Award for over 40 years of leadership and contributions to the corrosion community in education, research, technical service and advising, and professional development.

This award honors organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the field of corrosion science and engineering over a sustained period of time.  The award typically goes to companies.  In fact, this is only the second time in its 60 year history that the award has gone to a university (the first time was to The Ohio State University’s Fontana Corrosion Center).

Built on the foundation of the Applied Electrochemistry Laboratories, a highly successful organized research unit originally established by materials science and engineering professor Glenn Stoner, the CESE is a multi-disciplinary research effort which includes activities in the departments of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering as well as interactions with electrical engineering, computer science, and physics.  Materials science and engineering professors John Scully and Rob Kelly serve as directors of the CESE.

Researchers in this field aim to understand corrosion and prevent the degradation of material properties by chemical or electrochemical processes.  Their work enhances the durability of bridges, airplanes, cars, and more.  Although laypeople may be largely unfamiliar with the field of corrosion science and engineering, as the Minneapolis bridge collapse tragically demonstrated last summer, it is an area that has considerable impact on our daily lives. 

Scully notes that the CESE’s research spans a wide variety of sectors.  He thinks it could play an important role in U.S. energy independence, for instance.  “We do a lot of work that I think is key to the material choice for the engineered waste package for the nuclear waste repository,” he says.  Since nuclear waste takes from 1000 to 10,000 years to break down, this waste package must be highly resistant to corrosion.  “The future of nuclear power in this country may come down to the repository, because if there is no safe place to dispose of the waste, they are not going to be able to build new nuclear power plants.”

In addition, the CESE provides important public service roles.  Scully and Kelly have served on various national committees and panels.  Scully served on the space shuttle Columbia panel and Kelly recently volunteered his time to help pick the materials for the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon.

Perhaps the most critical role of the CESE is educating the next generation of engineers to tackle corrosion challenges.  The CESE is one of only a few centers in the world that offer specialized graduate education in the field of corrosion.  According to Scully, these centers end up providing 90 percent of the engineering postgraduate workforce in this area.

Kelly and Scully are particularly proud of this educational role.  “There is no undergraduate degree in our field,” says Kelly.  “We deal with a pretty wide diversity of backgrounds but in the end when they go out and they go into practice, the students from here have been able to make a lot of contributions in a lot of different subspecialties in the field, whether it be in academics or whether it’s in research institutes or private companies.  I think that is one of the things that has been most satisfying for John and me.”

The sustained impact of the CESE is recognized by their peers.  In fact, Gerald S. Frankel, director of the Fontana Corrosion Center at The Ohio State University, nominated the Center for this award.  “CESE has been a world leader in the field of electrochemistry and corrosion for almost twenty years,” says Gerald S. Frankel, director of the Fontana Corrosion Center at the Ohio State University.  “Their research is addressing the important problems in the field and is of the highest quality.  The faculty are recognized leaders in academic circles and as advisors to industry and government.  The students and post docs produced by CESE have gone on to become leaders and important contributors in their own right.  The Center is a treasure that U.Va. should be extremely proud of.”

The Distinguished Organization Award will be presented to the CESE at CORROSION 2009, the NACE Annual Conference and Exposition in March.

NACE International is the leader in the corrosion engineering and science community, and is recognized around the world as the premier authority for corrosion control solutions.

NACE International was originally known as "The National Association of Corrosion Engineers" when it was established in 1943 by eleven corrosion engineers in the pipeline industry. These founding members were involved in a regional cathodic protection group formed in the 1930s, when the study of cathodic protection was introduced. With more than 60 years of experience in developing corrosion prevention and control standards, NACE International has become the largest organization in the world committed to the study of corrosion.