An artistic representation of the relationship between Australia and Japan has been salvaged from decay thanks to the expertise of UOW materials engineers.

Rust has been slowly eating away the steel sculpture Toku, which was commissioned to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the ancient Japanese capital Nara.

The sculpture by Japanese artist Shinki Kato was unveiled in September 2010 at the Canberra Nara Peace Park, has three main elements: A five-storied pagoda that represents Canberra, a floating stone representing Nara and the form of a small bird symbolising peace.

The sculpture was prefabricated in Japan and shipped to Australia where it was assembled on-site in Canberra.

Dr Yue Zhao and Dr Sina Jamali along with corrosion expert Associate Professor Gao Zhiming, visiting from Tianjin University in China, not only discovered the cause and recommended a remedy for the corrosion, they have been able to demonstrate the viability of a testing technique that had not been applied in the field.

Dr Zhao said the problem was quickly identified through field and laboratory tests and a solution could be recommended.

“This is a symbolic piece of art for Canberra so it was important to find a solution to the corrosion problem,” he said. “We found the initial paint coating wasn’t adequate. A decorative paint was used to create a ‘hammered’ effect and these paints use a silicone additive.

“But without a protective primer the silicon additive can damage the surface and create weak spots where rust can start. The sculpture is in a park near Lake Burley Griffin where it’s exposed to wet and windy conditions, which is not an ideal environment for a steel sculpture.”

The team recommended the sculpture be water blasted to strip the old paint and a new anti-corrosion primer applied before the artists add the final layer of decorative paint.

Dr Zhao said the collaboration with the ACT Government was an example of how academic research and expertise could be applied quickly and easily to assist in solving real problems in the community.

“There is a good synergy between engineering and art and we think that applying engineering knowledge would help artists produce longer-lasting pieces. Our job is to build a strong foundation for artwork so that it is there for a long time for everyone to enjoy.”

Dr Jamali said the measurement techniques developed in the past few years were all based on controlled laboratory conditions.

“We wanted to see if it would be possible to transfer these techniques to the field,” he said. “For this project we adapted our testing methods to use in the field and it worked so now we have a field-based detection we can apply for other research.

“We can also predict how long the protection afforded by a particular coating will last. This will be of great use and could save a lot of money for agencies involved in maintaining and repairing civil infrastructure such as bridges.”

Words by Grant Reynolds. Originally published by UOW Newsroom.