Electroplating: Metals are some of the most common elements that are around us. They all have their strengths and flaws. One of the biggest flaws that some metals can have is that eventually they corrode this change the way we look at these elements. But the good news is that chemist and metallurgists have figured out ways to alter them slightly and electroplating and galvanizing them. These processes change just a part of the metal at an affordable price. Electroplating has revolutionized the way metals are perceived by humans. Electroplating gives a cheap metal the look and the feel of an expensive metal at a very affordable cost. For example one can take iron (the most common element on this plane) and make it look and feel like gold (a rare and rather expensive element on this planet). There is also another process called Galvanizing which refers to iron or steel products to be coated by zinc (which is a rust resistant element). Galvanizing is also a very affordable process which basically make iron and steel the properties like rust resistance this makes a substance like steel rust proof which can be very helpful when that steel is used to make outdoor structures like bridges, buildings and machines
History and Development: Electroplating has been in development for hundreds of years. It can be considered an industrial revolution due to its ability to make metal items less susceptible to corrosion. Though the methods and efficiency of the electroplating process may have improved over time, the basic chemical fundamentals in which the idea have sparked from remained the same.
The roots of the development of electroplating can be traced back to the early 19th century. An Italian physicist by the name of Alessandro Volta was studying electrochemical principles which lead him to invent the voltaic pile in 1800. A voltaic pile is a set of Galvanic cells in a series, and is considered to be the first electric battery. In 1805, a university professor named Luigi Brugnatelli, who was a friend of Volta, used this voltaic pile to experiment with different electrode position properties. He was able to use this power source as a means to move the metal ions from an anode to a cathode within a solution. Eventually in 1805, Brugnatelli had successfully completed the first refined electrodeposition, when he plated a layer of gold onto different silver objects. This is the first recorded process of electroplating. He then wrote in a letter to the Belgian Journal of Physics and Chemistry:
"I have lately gilt in a complete manner two large silver medals, by bringing them into communication by means of a steel wire, with a negative pole of a voltaic pile, and keeping them one after the other immersed in ammoniuret of gold newly made and well saturated".
Unfortunately, due to a fallout with the French Academy of Sciences (the leading scientific body in Europe), as well as scientific suppression by French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte, Brugnatelli was unable to make any more publications in scientific journals.
Although Brugnatelli’s known contributions in history had ended, in 1839 chemists in Britain as well as Russia had performed electrode position processes similar to Burgnatelli’s successfully for copper electroplating of printing press plates. During 1840, electroplating was further developed by Henry and George Ellington, as they expanded the idea for gold and silver plating. In Birmingham, England a surgeon named John Wright “first showed that items could be electroplated by immersing them in a tank of silver held in solution, through which an electric current was passed" (Birmingham Jewelry Quarter). He also found that potassium cyanide was a useful electrolyte for the reaction. Wright then patented this idea, but the patent was later purchased by George Elkington who held a monopoly in electroplating due to this cheap and efficient idea.
During the 1850’s many different electroplating methods including bright nickel, brass, tin, and zinc saw widespread usage and saw usage in both engineering and commercial purposes. This was also the time of the British industrial age, and electroplating processes began to spread throughout the world for the production of various goods. For the next several decades there were very little great technological leaps for electroplating other than a decrease in the use of batteries as an electricity source, and an increase in the usage of direct current power sources. Direct current power sources were recently invented by Thomas Edison, and are a much more effective means of electroplating, as electrons now only flow in one direction, rather than back and forth.
The earliest 20th century brought many new technological advances in the world, and with them brought new uses and needs for electroplating. Because of the dangers of corrosion for many different metal products, the electroplating industry became a massive market. Everything from automobiles, machinery, and airplanes requires some form of plating to make them more durable. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, gold became heavily used for plating for electronic components. Also, the use of cyanide potassium salt as an electrolyte decreased due to its potential health risks, and the use of more safe substitutes were used.
The last big breakthrough for electroplating was the ability to electroplate a metal onto plastic. This was very difficult to achieve because since plastic is not a conductor of electricity. An American physicist named Richard Feynman was the first to achieve this. It was done by creating ‘holes’ or notches in the plastic by placing it in a very strong acid solution. From you place the plastic in a palladium chloride solution, followed by coating it in copper. The palladium chloride places metal particles into the notches of the plastic substance, and then the copper is coated onto the palladium. Now the plastic is now coated in an electrically charged copper, and is now able to be plated with any desired metal finish.