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Student Research Spotlight – Kari Livingston

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 7:36 am / August 31, 2016

Kari Livingston attaches the Bruker Dimension Icon AFM head to carry out corrosion-related KPFM studies.By Paul Davis

Although she is just starting her junior year as a mechanical and biomedical engineering major at Boise State, Nanoscale Materials and Device Group (NMDG) member and Surface Science Lab (SSL) student researcher Kari Livingston already has a leg up on graduate school. Livingston co-authored a peer reviewed journal article that was accepted for publication this past spring.

The paper, titled “Microgalvanic Corrosion Behavior of Cu-Ag Active Braze Alloys Investigated with SKPFM,” was an invited contribution to a special issue of the journal Metals, focused on the oxidation of metals. SSL manager Paul Davis and former NMDG member and SSL student researcher Corey Efaw were also co-authors.

image of a copper silver braze joining two stainless steel plates

Top: KPFM image of a copper silver braze joining two stainless steel plates. The color scale indicates variations in surface potential due to differences in local composition.
Bottom Row: EDS maps showing how the location of the various elements present within the braze correlates perfectly with the surface potential differences seen in the KPFM image. Titanium (aqua), copper (red), and silver (green) are shown.

The work involved a collaboration among Boise State Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering faculty members Brian Jacques, Darryl Butt and Mike Hurley. Livingston worked with materials science graduate student Armen Kvryan to co-localize Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy measurements, which allow nanoscale mapping of variations in surface potential or work function, and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy to correlate variations in microstructural composition with observed surface potential differences. These nanoscale variations were then linked to macroscopic corrosion behavior, with the goal of understanding how to prevent corrosion in brazes, which are a low temperature alternative to welding for joining together metal parts.

Livingston’s work made use of the advanced capabilities of the SSL’s Bruker Dimension Icon AFM and built on a previous SSL publication, “Volta Potentials Measured by Scanning Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy as Relevant to Corrosion of Magnesium Alloys.” This 2015 invited publication in the journal Corrosion, co-authored by then mechanical and biomedical undergraduate and current materials science doctoral student Corey Efaw, also involved NMDG members Elton Graugnard and Davis.

Spearheaded by Hurley, who heads up the Applied Electrochemistry Corrosion Research Lab at Boise State, this investigation into surface potentials of magnesium alloys required an international collaboration with Nick Birbilis. Birbilis is a world-renowned expert in the field of magnesium alloys and heads the materials science department at Monash University in Australia.

Livingston and the SSL were acknowledged for their contributions to another recent publication co-authored by Hurley and Birbilis that appeared in Scientific Reports concerning addition of germanium to magnesium alloys for controlling corrosion. That work also involved researchers at Swansea University in Wales (United Kingdom) and the University of Virginia.