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“Designing electrolytes to control electrochemical processes”

Chibueze Amanchukwu

“Maximizing CO2 capture in photosynthetic organisms”

Ahmed Badran

“Using abundant materials to make safer batteries”

Rachel Carter

“Driving enhanced tire sustainability and performance”

Rob Dennis-Pelcher

“Developing electrochemical tools to understand corrosion”

Samantha M. Gateman

“Therapeutically targeting structurally dynamic RNAs”

Alisha Jones

“Harnessing radiochemistry to investigate environmental pollutants”

Outi Keinänen

“Developing new approaches to oligonucleotide manufacturing”

Sarah Lovelock

Nominate for the T12 class of 2025

Nominations

“A path toward drugging the ‘undruggable’ ”

Jesus Moreno

“Innovating nanoscale biosensors for human health”

Nako Nakatsuka

“Discovering unknown metabolites with chemical AI”

Michael Skinnider

“Radical catalysis for sustainable synthesis”

Julian West

Register for the T12 Symposium

T12 Symposium

“Designing electrolytes to control electrochemical processes”

Chibueze Amanchukwu

“Maximizing CO2 capture in photosynthetic organisms”

Ahmed Badran

“Using abundant materials to make safer batteries”

Rachel Carter

“Driving enhanced tire sustainability and performance”

Rob Dennis-Pelcher

“Developing electrochemical tools to understand corrosion”

Samantha M. Gateman

“Therapeutically targeting structurally dynamic RNAs”

Alisha Jones

“Harnessing radiochemistry to investigate environmental pollutants”

Outi Keinänen

“Developing new approaches to oligonucleotide manufacturing”

Sarah Lovelock

“A path toward drugging the ‘undruggable’ ”

Jesus Moreno

“Innovating nanoscale biosensors for human health”

Nako Nakatsuka

“Discovering unknown metabolites with chemical AI”

Michael Skinnider

“Radical catalysis for sustainable synthesis”

Julian West

Nominate for the T12 class of 2025

Nominations

Register for the T12 Symposium

T12 Symposium

“Designing electrolytes to control electrochemical processes”

Chibueze Amanchukwu

“Maximizing CO2 capture in photosynthetic organisms”

Ahmed Badran

“Using abundant materials to make safer batteries”

Rachel Carter

“Driving enhanced tire sustainability and performance”

Rob Dennis-Pelcher

“Developing electrochemical tools to understand corrosion”

Samantha M. Gateman

“Therapeutically targeting structurally dynamic RNAs”

Alisha Jones

“Harnessing radiochemistry to investigate environmental pollutants”

Outi Keinänen

“Developing new approaches to oligonucleotide manufacturing”

Sarah Lovelock

“A path toward drugging the ‘undruggable’ ”

Jesus Moreno

“Innovating nanoscale biosensors for human health”

Nako Nakatsuka

“Discovering unknown metabolites with chemical AI”

Michael Skinnider

“Radical catalysis for sustainable synthesis”

Julian West

Nominate for the T12 class of 2025

Nominations

Register for the T12 Symposium

T12 Symposium
 Lightning bolt for electrochemistry icon
Canister with nuclear symbol icon
The element Copper icon
Canister with nuclear symbol icon
The element Copper icon
Headshot of Samantha M. Gateman Headshot of Samantha M. Gateman
Credit: Courtesy of Samantha M. Gateman
By Sam Lemonick, special to C&EN
May 17, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 15
Materials
“Developing
electrochemical
tools to
understand
corrosion”
Samantha M.  Gateman

While metals play indispensable roles in our world as the frames of vehicles, the skeletons of buildings, and the moving parts of machinery, they also have a weakness: corrosion. Oxidants in the environment can slowly weaken and degrade metals.

Vitals

Current affiliation: University of Western Ontario

Age: 30

PhD alma mater: McGill University

Hometown: Cambridge, Ontario

My role model is: "Marie Curie because of her resilience in the face of adversity, her dedication to education, and her commitment to scientific integrity."

My favorite movie is: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding because it shares a core heartwarming message about the importance of love, acceptance, and embracing one’s identity."

Samantha M. Gateman wants to help these crucial materials stand up to corrosion. The University of Western Ontario (UWO) chemist studies corrosion down to the scale of individual atoms to better understand, predict, and prevent it. Her work could help safely store spent nuclear fuel for millennia, extend the lifetimes of modern cars and trucks, and even improve birth control.

While metals like stainless steel might appear uniform to the eye, they look very different at the atomic level. “Under a microscope you can see grains and inclusions and precipitates that make the microstructure heterogeneous,” Gateman says. Corrosion can start at those regions that differ from the bulk metal. Identifying vulnerable spots can help manufacturers learn how to produce metals that are more resistant to corrosion. For example, if Gateman discovers corrosion in areas that are richer in one element than the surrounding metal, she can suggest finding a new alloy or manufacturing technique that would reduce those heterogeneities.

These microscopic vulnerabilities might not matter much for your silverware, but it’s a different story for a metal canister holding nuclear fuel.

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is the government agency tasked with safely storing spent fuel from the country’s nuclear power plants. The NWMO plans to seal used fuel pellets inside steel and copper capsules and then bury them hundreds of meters deep in clay and rock. The fuel will remain radioactive for thousands of years. If the capsules corrode, they could leak and contaminate groundwater—and radioactive material could eventually reach rivers or lakes.

This is where Gateman comes in. The NWMO is her biggest industrial funder. She uses electron microscopes and other tools to study the capsule metals while they sit in different solutions that simulate what the containers might experience underground. Her team looks for corrosion points and brings that information to the capsules’ designers and manufacturers.

The project requires Gateman to work closely across different fields, a talent that has become one of her trademarks. She collaborates not only with capsule engineers but also with scientists who understand the chemistry of decaying nuclear fuel and the geochemical and microbial conditions that the capsules will experience. Gateman collects all these data to accurately simulate possible corrosion.

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“No one does science by themselves,” says electrochemist Janine Mauzeroll, who was Gateman’s graduate adviser at McGill University. “Her ability is to find key people and get the knowledge and put it together.”

In addition to Gateman’s work for the NWMO, she’s studying corrosion of advanced high-strength steels. Car and truck manufacturers are exploring these new alloys because they’re lighter than traditional steel but just as strong, which could lead to higher fuel efficiency. But there is evidence that these alloys are more susceptible to corrosion. That could result in vehicles that require expensive repairs and have a shorter lifespan. Gateman hopes her microscopic investigative procedures can help find fixes.

Another corrosion project Gateman works on is more personal. She is looking for alternatives to the copper-based intrauterine device (IUD), the only long-term, reversible, nonhormonal birth control available. IUDs work through corrosion. Chemical reactions release copper ions from IUDs into the uterus, where the ions disrupt fertilization. Copper IUDs also inflame the uterus and, in some people, cause spotting and heavier periods.

“I asked, as a scientist and a woman, Why copper?” Gateman says. “I wasn’t satisfied with so many negative side effects. I asked if there were other materials we can use.” Zinc and iron ore are possible alternatives she’s investigating. She’s working with researchers at the UWO medical school, as well as with polymer chemists, sociologists, and psychologists, to develop—and maybe eventually market—a new IUD.

Gateman’s various projects focus on the behavior of small collections of atoms, a long way from human experience. But she hopes that the potential outcomes of her work are much more tangible and have a positive effect on people’s lives.

Materials

Samantha M. Gateman

This analytical chemist studies metals at the atomic level to prevent corrosion

by Sam Lemonick, special to C&EN
May 17, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 15
A photo of Samantha M. Gateman.

Credit: Courtesy of Samantha M. Gateman/C&EN | Samantha M. Gateman

 

I asked, as a scientist and a woman, Why copper?

Vitals

Current affiliation: University of Western Ontario

Age: 30

MD-PhD alma mater: McGill University

Hometown: Cambridge, Ontario

My role model is: "Marie Curie because of her resilience in the face of adversity, her dedication to education, and her commitment to scientific integrity."

My favorite movie is: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding because it shares a core heartwarming message about the importance of love, acceptance, and embracing one’s identity."

While metals play indispensable roles in our world as the frames of vehicles, the skeletons of buildings, and the moving parts of machinery, they also have a weakness: corrosion. Oxidants in the environment can slowly weaken and degrade metals.

Samantha M. Gateman wants to help these crucial materials stand up to corrosion. The University of Western Ontario (UWO) chemist studies corrosion down to the scale of individual atoms to better understand, predict, and prevent it. Her work could help safely store spent nuclear fuel for millennia, extend the lifetimes of modern cars and trucks, and even improve birth control.

While metals like stainless steel might appear uniform to the eye, they look very different at the atomic level. “Under a microscope you can see grains and inclusions and precipitates that make the microstructure heterogeneous,” Gateman says. Corrosion can start at those regions that differ from the bulk metal. Identifying vulnerable spots can help manufacturers learn how to produce metals that are more resistant to corrosion. For example, if Gateman discovers corrosion in areas that are richer in one element than the surrounding metal, she can suggest finding a new alloy or manufacturing technique that would reduce those heterogeneities.

These microscopic vulnerabilities might not matter much for your silverware, but it’s a different story for a metal canister holding nuclear fuel.

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is the government agency tasked with safely storing spent fuel from the country’s nuclear power plants. The NWMO plans to seal used fuel pellets inside steel and copper capsules and then bury them hundreds of meters deep in clay and rock. The fuel will remain radioactive for thousands of years. If the capsules corrode, they could leak and contaminate groundwater—and radioactive material could eventually reach rivers or lakes.

This is where Gateman comes in. The NWMO is her biggest industrial funder. She uses electron microscopes and other tools to study the capsule metals while they sit in different solutions that simulate what the containers might experience underground. Her team looks for corrosion points and brings that information to the capsules’ designers and manufacturers.

The project requires Gateman to work closely across different fields, a talent that has become one of her trademarks. She collaborates not only with capsule engineers but also with scientists who understand the chemistry of decaying nuclear fuel and the geochemical and microbial conditions that the capsules will experience. Gateman collects all these data to accurately simulate possible corrosion.

“No one does science by themselves,” says electrochemist Janine Mauzeroll, who was Gateman’s graduate adviser at McGill University. “Her ability is to find key people and get the knowledge and put it together.”

In addition to Gateman’s work for the NWMO, she’s studying corrosion of advanced high-strength steels. Car and truck manufacturers are exploring these new alloys because they’re lighter than traditional steel but just as strong, which could lead to higher fuel efficiency. But there is evidence that these alloys are more susceptible to corrosion. That could result in vehicles that require expensive repairs and have a shorter lifespan. Gateman hopes her microscopic investigative procedures can help find fixes.

Another corrosion project Gateman works on is more personal. She is looking for alternatives to the copper-based intrauterine device (IUD), the only long-term, reversible, nonhormonal birth control available. IUDs work through corrosion. Chemical reactions release copper ions from IUDs into the uterus, where the ions disrupt fertilization. Copper IUDs also inflame the uterus and, in some people, cause spotting and heavier periods.

“I asked, as a scientist and a woman, Why copper?” Gateman says. “I wasn’t satisfied with so many negative side effects. I asked if there were other materials we can use.” Zinc and iron ore are possible alternatives she’s investigating. She’s working with researchers at the UWO medical school, as well as with polymer chemists, sociologists, and psychologists, to develop—and maybe eventually market—a new IUD.

Gateman’s various projects focus on the behavior of small collections of atoms, a long way from human experience. But she hopes that the potential outcomes of her work are much more tangible and have a positive effect on people’s lives.

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