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Past Winner
2007 NSERC Doctoral Prize

Nicholas J. Mosey


The University of Western Ontario

Nicholas J. Mosey
Nicholas J. Mosey

The task of preventing wear in the high-temperature, high-pressure environment of an engine falls to a thin layer of motor oil. For some 70 years, additives called zinc dialkyldithiophosphates (ZDDP) have been enlisted to help the cause. They were known to turn into protective films under engine conditions, but the specific mechanisms of that transformation eluded researchers for decades.

Abandoning the traditional experimental approach, chemist Nicholas Mosey used computer simulation methods in his doctoral research to identify four distinct processes that combined to transform ZDDPs into a protective film. His work has earned him a 2007 NSERC Doctoral Prize.

This research should help the automobile and lubricant industries in their efforts to design new anti-wear additives. It is particularly timely, since ZDDP does not work on today's aluminum engines, not to mention that environmental regulations severely restrict its use.

"It's virtually impossible to use experimental methods to directly get information about molecular behaviour inside the extreme environment of a running engine," says. Dr. Mosey. "Using simulation methods allowed us to contribute to solving a problem that has been around for decades."

Dr. Mosey's computer models analysed processes at the molecular level to show that certain reactions caused ZDDP to decompose into several other products. These were then polymerized, or formed chains of molecules. The pressure in the engine then formed films, which were in turn strengthened by being exposed to more pressure.

In the quest for a new generation of oil additives, Dr. Mosey has provided a comprehensive model of the formation of protective films, one that incorporates the previously unknown importance of extreme pressure. The model not only lays out the required characteristics of any new product, but incorporates the shortcomings that require ZDDP to be replaced.

Not only can the results of his research be used to create better motor oils, but Dr. Mosey says they have potential applications in such areas as synthesizing nanoporous materials and in other settings that involve friction between objects.

Dr. Mosey is recognized by his peers as an extremely productive researcher, and his work has been hailed for having outstanding breadth and depth. Major petrochemical companies are putting his ideas to work in their efforts to design new anti-wear additives. His thesis research also led to a number of articles in peer-reviewed publications, including the prestigious journal Science.

He also won the 2006 NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize.