Mystery of Delhi's Iron Pillar unraveled

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New Delhi, July 18: Experts at the Indian Institute of Technology have resolved the mystery behind the 1,600-year-old iron pillar in Delhi, which has never corroded despite the capital's harsh weather.

Metallurgists at Kanpur IIT have discovered that a thin layer of "misawite", a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen, has protected the cast iron pillar from rust.

The protective film took form within three years after erection of the pillar and has been growing ever so slowly since then. After 1,600 years, the film has grown just one-twentieth of a millimeter thick, according to R. Balasubramaniam of the IIT.

In a report published in the journal Current Science Balasubramanian says, the protective film was formed catalytically by the presence of high amounts of phosphorous in the iron—as much as one per cent against less than 0.05 per cent in today's iron.

The high phosphorous content is a result of the unique iron-making process practiced by ancient Indians, who reduced iron ore into steel in one step by mixing it with charcoal.

Modern blast furnaces, on the other hand, use limestone in place of charcoal yielding molten slag and pig iron that is later converted into steel. In the modern process most phosphorous is carried away by the slag.

The pillar—over seven metres high and weighing more than six tonnes—was erected by Kumara Gupta of Gupta dynasty that ruled northern India in AD 320-540.

Stating that the pillar is "a living testimony to the skill of metallurgists of ancient India", Balasubramaniam said the "kinetic scheme" that his group developed for predicting growth of the protective film may be useful for modeling long-term corrosion behaviour of containers for nuclear storage applications.

Source: Press Trust of India
http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=12824