A legal battle launched in 1993 over toxic chromium metal became the basis for the movie Erin Brockovich, which featured superstar Julia Roberts. Now, materials scientists have quietly taken aim at one common use of that harmful substance by creating a nontoxic alloy with the potential to replace a coating containing chromium.
Costarring in these laboratory developments is a new method for making alloys. With it, scientists can dictate the sizes of nanoscale crystals in an alloy's structure—and therefore the alloy's properties—by manipulating its atomic composition. Christopher A. Schuh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology