Blades applies his knowledge of quantum mechanics and nanoscale chemistry to understand the different reactive processes of water and oxygen.

Will Blades, a Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering, participated in the 15th annual UVA Engineering Research Symposium, organized by the Graduate Engineering Student Council. He earned second place in the judged competition for his work on new models that better describe early stage oxidation and corrosion of transition metals such as nickel-chromium and nickel-chromium tungsten. He also earned the people’s choice award for his presentation, “From Alloy to Oxide: Capturing the Early Stages of Oxidation on Ni and Ni-Cr Alloy Surfaces.”

“My research addresses a materials science and engineering priority, understanding the atomistic mechanisms behind the initial oxidation of metal surfaces. It has been predicted that the annual cost of corrosion in the U.S. is $276 billion, so studying how the early stages of oxidation play out at the surface is of the utmost importance,” Blades said. “Generally speaking, we understand the oxidation mechanics of metals and alloys once a complete oxide layer is formed. We also understand the initial absorption of oxygen, which kicks off the oxidation process. But what we don't understand is the oxidation behavior before a complete oxide layer is formed. That is why we are focusing on that early transition, when there are only thin, partial oxide growth across the surface.” He hopes others will look at the reaction pathways he observed at the surface level, to extend and integrate this published data with existing schema to develop an end-to-end process model.

“Surfaces are inherently difficult to work with, but it’s a really fun puzzle,” said Blades, who studied physics at Virginia Commonwealth University before joining UVA Engineering’s graduate program, working with Petra Reinke as his advisor. In addition to working with great faculty in corrosion research, UVA Engineering offered Blades an opportunity to apply his knowledge of quantum mechanics and nanoscale chemistry to understand the different reactive processes of water and oxygen.

After he completes his dissertation, Blades would like a teaching-focused position at a university, where he can develop new methods of teaching that accommodate a diversity of learning styles including peer-to-peer, student teaching and hybrid classes. “The dissemination of knowledge to students is rewarding,” Blades said. He looks forward to gaining classroom experience teaching for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the spring 2020 term.