The Art and Science of Corrosion in the Rust Belt
It may not yet represent a true revival or renaissance, drug but there are signs of opportunity in the Rust Belt. And they’re the result of corrosion.
Once upon a time, troche America’s heartland—stretching from south-central New York to eastern Wisconsin—was known as the Steel and Factory Belt. This vast expanse of northern states stood at the center of raw materials production—coal and iron mining—steel production and manufacturing.
All that began to change in the middle of the last century. Cities like Detroit, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown and Pittsburgh, to name only a few, began a downward spiral. The Factory Belt was renamed the Rust Belt. Through the years, these once-booming manufacturing towns closed many of their factories, lost up to half their population and saw household incomes decline 10 percent, 20 percent and more.
There have and continue to be efforts to revive the Rust Belt with convention centers, artist communities, casinos and knowledge-based services. But the greatest opportunity in the future may come from new industry, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics and high-tech manufacturing.
In the meantime, there’s always corrosion.
Finding Beauty in Rust
A young photographer, Alyssha Eve Csük, grew up in Bethlehem, PA, which was the home of Bethlehem Steel—once the second largest steel manufacturer in the world. In her biographical notes on her website, Csük wrote that there was a time when the people of Bethlehem “could measure its successes by the inches of ash” on their windowsills.
Founded as the Bethlehem Iron Company in 1861 and renamed Bethlehem Steel in 1899, the factory closed its doors in 1995. The buildings and facilities have remained empty and barricaded behind locked fences ever since.
In November 2003, Csük was still a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology when, while visiting her home, chanced to ride her bicycle past the quietly rusting factory at just the right time of day. Her artist’s eye caught the drama, the subtle color, the abstract design and the effects of light and shadow…of corrosion. In her words: “Its haunted shadowed darkness hinted at a presence under the patina of dissipation and decay…”
Csük began photographing the rust and corrosion of Bethlehem Steel up close to turn corrosion’s erosion and destruction into abstract art. You can see her collected work, called “Abstract Portraits of Steel” on her website.
Welcome the Rust Busting Class of 2015
While Csük has found the art in corrosion and rust, on May 9th ten newly minted corrosion engineers graduated from the University of Akron Corrosion Engineering program. They represent the first class of corrosion engineers to graduate from the first degree-program in corrosion engineering in the country. And how appropriate it’s located in the center of the Rust Belt.
It’s been said that if you decide on a career in corrosion, you’re guaranteed work for the rest of your life. Because from the moment we turn ores into processed metals, nature begins its efforts to reclaim and return them to their natural mineral states—such as bauxite (aluminum ore), magnetite, hematite, limonite and the many other iron ores and iron oxides.
And yes, all ten graduates have jobs lined up. Corrosion engineers can earn on average more than $100,000 a year in fields ranging from aerospace and chemical processing to maritime and refining.
The 5-year University of Akron Corrosion Engineering undergraduate program was launched in 2010 at the request of the Defense Department’s Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight. Director Daniel J. Dunmire’s office provided both encouragement and initial funding. Today the program has about 100 students and a new $15-million research facility that also houses the National Center for Education and Research in Corrosion and Materials Performance.
Students combine academic and classroom studies with on-the-job experience. As they learn about new materials and coatings and the chemical properties of rust and corrosion, these and future students will be on the cutting edge of the rust and corrosion battle…if not eradicating them at least helping to reverse the staggering costs.