Looking back, Farragut, Hardin Valley scientists find current solution

OAK RIDGE — Two development engineers — one a Farragut resident and the other from Hardin Valley— looked to the past to bring back technology that had not been used on reactor components at Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge since the 1960s.

Jason Steward of Hardin Valley and Jonathan Peak of Farragut, both with Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC., which operates the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, created a corrosion protective coating for reactor components at White Sands Missile Range project under a contract for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.

When their tight delivery schedule ruled out other methods, Steward and Peak went back to the past, Peak said.

Normally, a research project might take three to five years, Peak said, but these two engineers only had a month-and-a-half to find the coating.

“Although thin film and coatings were not why we were hired or what we normally work on — Jonathan’s dissertation focused on thin films and physical vapor deposition processing, and my thesis was on corrosion protection coatings/films and subsequent heat treating,” Stewart said. “As luck would have it, the both of us combined had the experience to fully develop and execute the project.”

He said the technology for coatings had progressed a lot since the 1960s, but current technology focused on smooth, flat parts instead of three-dimensional.

“The only real application (for the current coating) was hard coating for tools or something like that — put it in a metal basket and spin it (to get the coating),” Peak added. “That just doesn’t work for anything high tech.

“So, we really had to go back and talk to people who had been at this in the past, to try to come to a solution because the technology had not progressed in this manner for three-dimensional geometry objects,” Steward said.

“We actually met with the man who invented and patented this technology, I believe, in 1967,” he added. “He gave us a lot of good ideas.”

“It paid off in that we actually hit our target film thickness on the very first run,” Peak said.

“These are the kinds of projects that are exciting, with high stakes and high relevancy,” he added. “We got to see the output, the results of our development work.”

The duo said they probably worked 90 hours during the week of the first production run, but working together was a good experience, Peak said.