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QUT researcher takes out aviation award

Brisbane Times, 25 February 2015

A Queensland researcher has taken home a huge gong at the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition in Victoria with a compound that detects potentially catastrophic paint deterioration.

Vanessa Lussini, from Queensland University of Technology's School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, won the $10,000 young innovator scholarship on Tuesday at the annual Avalon show.

Ms Lussini took out the award for her use of organic compounds to develop sensors that alerted maintenance crews of issues that required repainting.

Without that repainting, mechanical strain, direct sunlight, varying temperatures, water, salt and other pressures cause dangerous corrosion which could result in potentially catastrophic failure.

"Corrosion is like a cancer to metal and paint acts like a sunscreen which needs to be re-applied before the structural integrity of an aircraft is compromised," she said.

"It's critical to know when to repaint an aircraft but we can also paint them too often simply because they are scheduled to be done and every new coat adds weight.

"Often only certain sections need to be painted because they are more exposed and degrade faster. Or one plane is used every day and another sits in a hangar for long periods.

"Free radical oxidative degradation is the main route to coating failure and my project aims to create new, more resilient sensors to detect deterioration."

That was done, Ms Lussini said, by using a group of compounds called profluorescent nitroxides that monitored the chemical character of the protective outer coating of an aircraft through a fluorescent emission.

"Longer lasting sensors that can cope with harsh environmental conditions will make it easier to monitor and maintain aircraft coatings," she said.

"The reapplication of these coatings is costly so utilising condition-based monitoring over basic periodic maintenance can maximise the potential lifetime of the product, optimise maintenance schedules and reduce costs."

Ms Lussini said her research could also be applied to other structures, such as bridges.

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