Wonder Contributors

Today’s revised Wonder of the Day was inspired by questions about rust from these Wonder Friends: Zahleyiah, David, and Addie! Thanks for submitting those WONDERful questions. Keep WONDERing!

Have you ever seen a really old car that’s been sitting abandoned for a number of years? If so, it was probably reddish-brown and flaking in many places. Those spots where the metal has corroded are called rust.

But what exactly is rust? Rust is usually used to refer to a very common, reddish-brown compound called iron oxide (Fe2O3). Iron oxide is formed when iron and oxygen react in the presence of water or moisture in the air.

Iron oxide is very common, because iron reacts easily with oxygen in the air. In fact, it reacts so readily with oxygen that it’s actually very rare to find pure iron in nature.

Rust can also refer to the reaction of iron and chloride in an underwater environment. This can sometimes be seen on rebar used in underwater pillars. Over time, green rust will appear on these pillars as the iron reacts with chloride in the water.

Rust occurs when iron or its alloys, such as steel, corrode. The surface of a piece of iron will begin to corrode first in the presence of oxygen and water. Given enough time, any piece of iron will change entirely into rust and disintegrate.

The process of rusting is a combustion reaction, similar to fire. Left in contact with oxygen, iron will react with the oxygen to form rust. Unlike fire, though, the reaction is much slower and does not create a flame.

There are certain factors that can speed up the rusting process. For example, water speeds up the reaction. Other substances, such as salt, can also increase the speed of the rusting process.

To prevent rust, iron can be coated to prevent its reaction with oxygen and water. One such process is called galvanization. Galvanization usually involves coating an iron object with a protective layer of zinc. The layer of zinc helps to prevent the iron underneath from reacting with oxygen and water to form rust.

Another coating that’s a popular means of preventing rust is much simpler and much more common. What is it? Paint! That’s right. A simple coat of paint can also prevent iron from reacting with oxygen and water in the environment.

80 Join the Discussion

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    • Nice work, Olivia! We hope you learned something new about the chemistry when oxygen and iron mix, too! We Wonder if you have any other interest in chemistry? Hope you have a SUPER day! :)

    • Hi there, Ms. Bayko’s class! We’re happy you’re back today! We think you’ve got some super guesses for tomorrow! We Wonder if you use a computer, iPod or iPad in your classroom? We bet there is a ton of WONDERing going on today– have a SUPER fun time! :)

    • We are happy that the COOL students in Ms. Ramsdell’s class are enjoying our rust Wonder today! WOHOO, we love that we’re WONDERing about rust and chemistry together!

      Thanks for sharing your guesses, Wonder Friends. We think you’re virtually there! :)

  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We never knew that the rubber tires could last centuries after they deflate, while the body of the car can become one giant, rusty skeleton. We also learned that rust can turn really brown.

    We are wondering whether tomorrow’s technological wonder is about something that will be helpful or harmful. We are wondering whether it could be: flying cars, touch-screen technology, or a robot like Rosie from The Jetsons.

    • Hi to all our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Wall’s 4th grade class! We are celebrating to know that you’ve been learning about rust with us today! There are so many interesting and science-related reactions that happen when rust is formed, which makes it turn brown!

      We think you’ll be smiling when you join us for tomorrow’s virtual Wonder! Thank you for sharing your AWESOME guesses, Wonder Friends! :)

    • Hi there Fazze Hugzz, thanks for sharing your comment with us today! We hope you enjoyed WONDERing about rust with us– it’s pretty cool! :)

    • The students in the Cingiser class are doing a great job WONDERing about rust today! NICE WORK! We Wonder if you can do some more research of your own to find out what could happen to the hydrogen in the presence of water. One possibility is that the hydrogen ions turn into gas. Do you think there are any other scenarios? Thanks for commenting today– we are so happy to read your post! :)

    • Great job WONDERing– we are happy that the students in Mrs. Foster’s class are using their imaginations with us! We think you have a SUPER question about rust!

      Rust can happen very quickly OR very slowly– it all depends on the environment. If a car is located outdoors and has a lot of inclement weather surrounding it, the chemical reaction (rust) can happen fast. If it’s in a safe, dry place the car can rust but the process might happen slowly. We Wonder in what kind of situations a car would rust quickly? Have a SUPER day! :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Our class thought:

    *How did the car deform?
    *It was a really cool video
    *It was kind of creepy
    *It was icky when it got rustier
    *If it got a little rust on it while you used it, would it keep on rusting?
    *It was very interesting

    We think tomorrow might be about:
    *it might be about solar power
    *a new kind of computer
    *humans changing

    Can’t wait to see what happens…

    Sincerely,
    Mrs. Ouverson’s Fourth Grade Class

    • We love the great comments from the WONDERing students in Mrs. Ouverson’s Fourth Grade Class! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about today’s rusty Wonder! :)

      We Wonder if you can do some imagining of your own… what else, beside a car, might rust if it was left out in the rain and snow?

      We think you’re technologically ready to Wonder with us tomorrow– and we can’t WAIT! :)

  3. Hello from Mrs. Turner’s Fabulous Fifth Grade reading class!
    We learned a lot about rust today! One of the coolest things was how rust is sort of like fire. We also think that is why people having their cars painted is so important.
    We wonder what are the main things that are affected by rust (besides cars).

    Our predictions for tomorrow’s wonder is that it will be about computers!

    • We’re so happy to hear from our WONDERful readers in Mrs. Turner’s class– hi friends! :)

      You’ve done a SUPER job thinking about today’s Wonder– we are so happy to hear that you’ve learned something new and exciting! Who knew rust and fire had something in common?

      We think different modes of transportation, like a bicycle, scooter or even the blades of ice skates, would rust easily if not properly cared for. What other types of substances can easily rust? What have you, our Wonder Friends, seen rust in the past?

      Thanks for spending time guessing and WONDERing with us– we can’t wait to get digital with you tomorrow! :)

  4. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Thank you for the fabulous video of the car rusting.

    We think tomorrow’s WONDER might be about: iPhone 5, Curiosity (Mars rover), new video games, or new computers.

    We can’t wait!

  5. Wow that video was mind blowing!!!!!!!!!!!
    Learned many things like… rust can also refer to the reaction of iron and chloride in an underwater environment. This can sometimes be seen on rebar used in underwater pillars. But what exactly is rust? Rust is usually used to refer to a very common, reddish-brown compound called iron oxide (Fe2O3). Iron oxide is formed when iron and oxygen react in the presence of water or moisture in the air. Another coating that’s a popular means of preventing rust is much simpler and much more common. I also learned from this web and wonder today that cars can rust a lot? Well I didn’t know. I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about the apple and how tomorrow the iPhone 5 will be launched. And how many iPhones have been made and also maybe about Steve jobs and maybe a little video on him and how he discovered apple in his garage with two friends. Can’t wait to find out tomorrow.

    Thanks wonderopolis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Hi Wonderopolis! My name is Rachel. I am 10 years old and I am currently fighting cancer. I really love coming to this website while I am in chemo. Today my tutor came to the hospital and we talked about earth sciences and rust. He showed me today’s wonder and I got so excited. You guys are the ones who encourage me to keep on fighting. Thank you. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about a new type of chemo for cancer fighters.
    -Rachel

    • We are so lucky to have a STRONG Wonder Friend like you, Rachel the CancerFighter10! Our hearts and our smiles are big for you as you grow stronger and healthier after your treatments! We could not be happier to be WONDERing with you and your tutor, especially about science! There are so many exciting things to Wonder about and we hope you are using your imagination each and every day! Thank you for sharing your incredible story with us, you are a SUPER 10 year old! We are sending our support from Wonderopolis– and we will see you very soon! :) We think tomorrow’s Wonder will be right up your alley! ;)

    • Thanks for your encouraging comment, Kathryn! We hope you and all your classmates at New River Primary have enjoyed WONDERing with us! We are so glad you’re here! :)

  7. This video was kind of gross even though it’s just rust. It looks like termites are eating your car aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to see tomorow’s. I think it’s the future touch screen: everything you can open the curtain from the wall, your table turns into the internet that would be cool.

    I think I am doing really goood at wonderopolis and I am only 10.

    BYE-BYE

    • Hey there Grace! We are glad you commented about rust today– it’s a crazy idea if you think about it! Can you imagine the strong teeth termites would have to have to eat through a car! We are glad that you were able to see how rust affects the car, too! We think you’ve been doing a great job of using your imagination about technology– we like the idea of turning your table into a computer to use the internet! GREAT WORK! :)

  8. Rust is metal’s worst enemey. I have seen plenty of rusted cars, bridges, and other forgotten things with metal in it. I have learned so very much today like that there is a material that does not rust for that reason. Also I have learned that air and water could make rust worse together than just by themselves. I have also learned you can paint over rust. I can’t see how you can paint over rust without it growing back. Does it work geting rid of rust if a car is about to fall apart? I think tomorrow’s wonder is about computers in general or the franchise of Apple.

    • Look how much you’ve learned today, Matt D! We are so proud of you– you did a WONDERful job of listing other things that are subject to rust, too! We believe that you’ve got it right– painting over a car doesn’t stop the rust from occurring, but sometimes it can slow down the process of rust. We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow… you’ve got a SUPER guess! :)

  9. Thank you for your positive words. Tomorrow I have a 2 hour chemo treatment and I will definitely be on here! I have been in the hospital for 2 months and found out about my cancer 1 week ago. I have had 3 treatments so far and will continue to have a treatment daily. The sad thing is that I’m alone most of the time. My family lives in Maine but I am at a hospital in Massachusetts. Do you have any wonders about cancer?

    • We believe in Rachel the CancerFighter10! We think it’s WONDERful that you are spending so much time WONDERing with us– you always have a friend to use your imagination with at Wonderopolis! You are a brave Wonder Friend with many talents to share. While we don’t have any Wonders to share about cancer yet, we Wonder if you’ve had to have a CAT scan done:

      Wonder #606– What is a CAT Scan? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-cat-scan/

      But speaking of talents, we bet you’ll enjoy this Wonder from the past… :)

      Wonder #684– Are You Talented? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/are-you-talented/ (We already know the answer to that — YES you are talented!)

      We will be thinking of you tomorrow during your treatment, but we’ll right here when you are finished! :)

    • Way to learn something new, Karla G! It’s so exciting to Wonder about rust with you– we hope you enjoyed the video, too! :)

  10. Today’s wonder of the day was awesome! I never knew that water with chloride mixed with iron would make green rust! I just thought that the brownish-reddish type of rust was the only one. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day® is about the IPHONE. :)

    • Take a look at the Wonder about that picture– it’s rust, Eric! Rust can form in different colors, but one of the most recognizable is the brownish-orange color you might see on older cars. Check it out!

      Wonder #709– Why Do Some Things Rust? http://bit.ly/ODfjHR :)

    • We’re not sure where the rust is in that photo, Eric, but we applaud your question! We bet there are lots of places you’ve seen rust exist– we Wonder what you imagine it is! :)

  11. Hello Wonderopolis!

    Our reading class really enjoyed learning all about “rust” and why things rust! Some of the things that we learned are:
    1. Rust is bad for everything.
    2. Paint helps prevent rust.
    3. Salt can make cars rust, which is why in the winter time, the salt that is used on the highways needs to be washed off of our cars.
    4. Galvanization helps protect objects from rusting.

    We are still wondering….how does salt make it rust? How long does it take for something to rust? Is every car affected by rust?

    Predictions for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®: the cure for cancer :)

    • YOWZA, we are so happy to say HELLO to the super students on Team Caisse’s Reading class– you’ve done a great job sharing what you’ve learned today! We Wonder if you can do some more research of your own to learn about the elements in salt (NaCl) and how they might speed up the rusting process! We bet you can use your imaginations to help you guess, too!

      Thanks for sharing your SUPER guess– you are pretty close to discovering the next day’s Wonder! :)

    • Way to go, Lola, you are already WONDERing about rust! We hope you learned something new and exciting today during your visit to Wonderopolis– we re glad you’re here! :)

    • We appreciate your thoughts, Olivia D! We understand that sometimes our Wonder Friends won’t love our videos as much as we do, but we’re glad you shared your opinion today! :)

    • Great work, Olivia! You’re right– the water reacts with the metal and creates a brown/copper color that we know as rust! We Wonder if you learned anything else from this chemistry Wonder! :)

    • Great question, Laif! A chemical reaction occurs, which causes things to rust. We think you’ll learn something new by checking out our Wonder video and article! :)

    • Great question, Snoopsta32416! It depends on the climate and where the car is located– these factors will affect how quickly the chemical reactions take place– and how quickly the car will rust. :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do some things rust?
  • What is rust?
  • How can you prevent rust?

Wonder Gallery

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-old-steam-locomotive-rust-slovakia-image31810371rust_shutterstock_70023793-800x460http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-pile-iron-nails-rust-image25042140http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-rust-car-wreck-image3675047Vimeo Video

Try It Out

We hope you’re not too rusty after today’s Wonder of the Day! Get a friend or family member to give you a hand with one or more of the following fun activities:

  • What examples of rust can you find in the world around you? You might be surprised if you take the time to look. Check out your house, especially the garage and any metal objects you might find in the backyard. If you have one, use a camera to document the examples of rust that you find. Try to track the progress of a sample of rust over time. For example, if you find rust on an old fence, take a picture today and then plan to take additional pictures over the coming weeks, months, and years. Can you see in your photographs how the rust has progressed?
  • Take a field trip to a local body shop that fixes and/or paints automobiles. Ask an expert to show you examples of rust on vehicles and how such spots are fixed. Do newer cars have as many issues with rust? Why or why not? Have fun learning about the practical effects of rust on the objects we use every day.
  • Up for a challenge? Try a few science experiments at home to see how rust works up close! Check out the experiments below and choose one to try at home. You’ll need help from a friend or family member. Be sure to read through the experiment thoroughly before you begin to make sure you have all the supplies you need.

o   Rusting Wire Wool

o   Which Metal Corrodes the Fastest?

o   Rusty Reactions

Still Wondering

Science NetLinks’ The Transfer of Energy 3: Rust and Corrosion lesson reinforces children’s understanding of a process that they observe in everyday life.

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

Why did the little boy throw butter out the window? Find out tomorrow in Wonderopolis!

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