Diana Berman works with tribology machinery

Materials science and engineering Assistant Professor Diana Berman has received a $290,000 National Science Foundation grant to help mechanical systems, like combustion engines and turbines, last longer and go farther by changing how their protective surface coatings are designed.

“Current approaches to protecting the surfaces of these mechanical systems with coatings provide only temporary solutions as eventually the surface coatings degrade and wear off,” said Berman. “Our goal is to look at the fundamental mechanism of the material wear and learn how we can manipulate and reconstruct the coating.”

Currently, coatings are deposited into a mechanical system where they will eventually wear and tear down due to interaction with water, fuel or other hydrocarbons. Once this happens, the system will need to be completely disassembled so the coatings could once again be deposited into the system. Berman’s approach will allow the damaged surfaces to be repaired without having to disassemble the entire mechanical system, saving time, energy and resources. 

“Once we’ve gained a fundamental understanding of these coatings and how they are damaged, we’ll be able to create coatings that could not only stop the damage caused locally, but also replenish itself,” she said.

Berman’s work on surface coatings will have a large impact on aerospace, automobile, or other industries that use mechanical systems or other machinery by significantly improving overall system reliability and reducing energy losses.

“Tribology is pretty much everywhere; wherever there is movement, there is tribology,” she said. “What excites me most about this field is that you can directly see the impact you’re making.”