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Science Fair Project: Rust rate

Q. I am a 13 year old student from the United States of America and I have been ask to do a Science Fair Project. I was going to do do metals rust at different rates? But I don't know where to find my research. So can you please help me?

Brittany [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Decatur, Georgia

A. Hi Brittany,

Go to a local sheet metal fabricating shop and ask them if they will cut you some 1" x 3" thick steel panels, all of the same alloy. Keep them oiled until you are ready to clean for the tests. Try one just bare out in the weather, dip another in table salt water and throw out in the outside, dip another in Coca Cola and throw it out in the weather, hang one in the effluent from your gas furnace, then imagine some other corrosives that bare steel might be exposed to. Leave the panels in the corrosive atmosphere for as long as you can, then take photographs and mount on a big piece of poster paper, then write up the apparent results of the corrosiveness of the various media.

robert probert
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services
supporting advertiser
Garner, North Carolina

A. This subject has been well covered in earlier questions to this site; - use the search engine and you will get some fantastic answers!

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK

Q. My name is David and I am researching metal. I need to find out how I can get metal to rust fast with just water. Would it be easier to rust metal in warm or cold water?

David [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Tucson, Arizona

A. Hi, David. the purpose of the assignment is for you to start learning "the scientific method". If someone tells you the answer you're "supposed" to get, you'll feel pressured to discount contrary findings, put too much faith in weak findings that support the answer you're "supposed to" get, and jury-rig the experiment to get the "right" answer. This is called "junk science" and it's a terrible plague.

Do an experiment with warm and cold water, and honestly record your results; that is what your teacher wants. Write back with your results after you have done the experiment and we'll try to help you explain them. Good luck!

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Why do steel nails still rust in Vaseline or oil?

Vanessa [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Great Neck, New York

Q. What are the different ways to stop rusting?

Katy [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- London, England

A. Vanessa, what evidence do you have that they do? Automobile engines would not work very well if oiled steel rusted.

Katy, painting it, electroplating it, keeping it immersed in oil, putting vaseline on it, keeping it dry, keeping it clean -- for starters.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Ok I have a question and I am also working on a Science fair project and I have looked all over the internet for a solution to the following question: If an iron nail is placed in Distilled, Tap, Mineral, carbonated, and Filtered water, will they affect the growth of rust on the nail? I'm looking for a procedure for this and also some of the results, or at least some predictions of what would happen and how to measure the growth of the rust on the nail.

Amanda [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Louisiana

Q. Does Salt effect the rate of rusting.

Jessica [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Centreville, Maryland

A. Amanda: Yes, the rust rate will be effected. Get 5 glass desert bowls and put a nail and one of the 5 liquids in each. Visual judgment of rusting rate should be plenty accurate enough for your project's needs.

Jessica: Yes. See above.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Why do pennies Rust, what makes them rust and what can you do to make them rust.

Steve [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- San Diego, California

A. Steve, rust is iron oxide, and only iron can rust. Pennies can't rust because they don't contain iron.

But they do corrode. U.S. pennies since 1983 consist of a zinc core that is copper plated. Once the copper plating is perforated, the zinc corrodes easily because it is not corrosion resistant and because the copper coating induces galvanic corrosion currents. Salt and acid will accelerate the corrosion.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I am questioning about doing a science project. I would like to know what substances we could test (preferably 4) to put on an already purchased nail with no protective coating, either oil or paint, or etc. My question for the science fair will be What will stop nails from corroding?

Rachel [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Lexington Park, Maryland

Rachel, your question will have to be phrased more narrowly than the way you have posed it. It will have to be something like "what readily available coatings can be applied to nails to prevent them from rusting under such-and-such conditions?" Why not try 4 different kinds of paint? Say aluminum paint, latex interior house paint, oil-based exterior house paint, and a sprayed-on made-for-metal paint like Rustoleum or Krylon.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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Q. I'm doing an experiment on,"Do metals rust at different rates"? I'm testing three metals brass, zinc coated iron, and copper. Can brass corrode because it's the only metal that has not changed?

Octavia [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- New Orleans, Louisiana

Q. What is a quarter, dime, nickel, and penny made out of? How will they corrode in fresh water? unfiltered water? vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon (adv.)], lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] ? or salt water?

Thank You!

James [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Q. I'm a seventh grader and I need to know what liquid pennies tarnish faster in.

Lil D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Missouri

Octavia: apparently your answer is "Yes, metals corrode at different rates" because you say that the brass has not corroded yet and the other materials have; under the right conditions for long enough it will corrode.

James: Quarters, dimes, and nickels are made of copper-nickel alloys; pennies are made of copper plated zinc. I think you are the one who is supposed to do the experiment and answer the question regarding how they corrode.

Lil D: Has you teacher and your science book given you no instruction!? That would be very dangerous because it would tempt you to mix chemicals together in dangerous ways. Try various fruit juices, vinegar, and salt water. Do not try bleach, ammonia, or household cleaners.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. What happens to coins left in salt water and fresh water after one to two weeks?

Rebecca [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Chino, California

Q. Rebecca, please put the coins in salt water and fresh water and come back in one to two weeks. You are not supposed to know what happens because the temptation to look for that result and dismiss any contrary result will be too strong.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I would like to know why the steel wool w/o soap rusts so slow.

Johnny [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Leland, Mississippi

00 steel wool [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] rusts very quickly. If you have steel wool that does not do so it may not be steel or it may have been treated with a preservative.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

What are the results of copper, steel, and aluminum how they rust under the weather conditions of Puerto Rico?

Ron [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Cebia, Puerto Rico

Ron, unless you're mailed me a plane ticket, who of the two of of us is in the better position to run the required experiment in order to answer this question? :-)

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey


I'm in seventh grade and I'm doing a project where you place iron nails in test tubes and in the test tubes I am going to put vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, and antibacterial hand soap. I am trying to see which one will stop rust the best. I am having trouble with the variables and I don't understand what would be the dependent and the independent variable. Could You help me out? Thanks!

Mike [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Miller Place, New York

I am a mother helping her daughter with her science project, and I wanted to know " What in the Quarter, Nickel and Dimes that makes it corrode in Salt & Fresh water?" This is her first Science project, she is in the 3rd grade, her name Is Ruth. Please will you help her?

Angela L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Springfield, Tennessee

Mike, the independent variables are the things you are free to vary, like using vegetable oil, vs. Vaseline, vs. soap. The dependent variables are the things that vary because of them, like how many days it takes the nails to rust.

Ms. L., these coins are made of copper-nickel alloys (exact compositions should be findable at the U.S. Mint website) but I don't think that quarters, nickels, or dimes will substantially corrode in water. They will tarnish a bit, but I don't think you'll be able to get them to corrode in water within a reasonable time frame for a science project. One of my hobbies is hunting coins between the slats of oceanfront boardwalks, and even when these coins are wetted in a salt environment for years, the worst I've seen is a bit of green patina from the exposed edges of the copper core.The theoretical answer is that the metal itself reacts with oxygen in the air and water to form metal oxides; but the practical answer is that nickels, dimes, and quarters don't corrode in a practical time.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

I'm doing a science experiment on which liquids cause iron to rust the fastest. The chemical that I'm using is vinegar, lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] and a steel nail.( I know which nail rusted the fastest) but what I would like to know is what is at the bottom of the jar with the peroxide, it looks like sand, and the bottom of the lemon juice looks like foam or something can you let me know thank you .

Shenita M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Auburn Hills, Michigan

A wild guess, you used a nice shiny steel nail, straight out of the box and washed to clean it. If so, the shiny may be a thin layer of zinc. In the peroxide you got a zinc oxide, probably an off white and possibly with a tinge of orange from the nail rust. In the juice, you would get a zinc acetate or citrate. This will slowly crystallize from the gel like material that first formed. Iron oxides would be yellow or red depending on ferrous or ferric iron state, or a combination of both. Iron is very soluble in citrates or acetates, so I would be surprised if you saw much of that as stuff in the bottom of the tube.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

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