Surface engineering: camouflaging the reality

The demand to transform a material from a low value element to noble one (i.e. gold) has never stopped throughout the history and mankind has been looking always for an “elixir”. One of the simplest way to quasi reach such a goal is to change the surface of the material by coloring the outer surface, structuring the surface or chemically changing the outer layer composition. All of these techniques are categorized under “surface engineering”. The camouflaging can be also considered as surface engineering because majority of the animals which apply camouflaging either changing the arrangement of the cells in their skins or slightly tune the skin wrinkles to induce color change.
Surface engineering is very practical in science and engineering. To name some, the surface hardening of metals is a common method in metallurgy which provides the possibility to have a materials with very hard surface but a soft core. For instance, diffusing of nitrogen to the surface of aluminum make it very hard while keeping the other beneficial properties of bulk aluminum (e.g. light metals). Changing the surface roughness of the materials is also categorized under surface engineering. This method (texturing the silicon surface) has been largely used in solar cells to reduce the reflection loss of the silicon in order to raise the efficiency.
Note that surface engineering have been also misused for production of fake products. For example, gold electroplating of cheap metals (steels) are sometimes used by criminals to make fake jewelry. In short, “surface engineering” can be either used to leverage the value of a material or to “camouflage the reality”!

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Categories: Articles, Materials Science and Engineering

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