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Carlos Castano, Ph.D. - VCU College of Engineering. Richmond, VA, US

Carlos Castano, Ph.D. Carlos Castano, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering | VCU College of Engineering


Professor Castano specializes in tailoring surface properties of materials for applications in energy, transportation, and manufacturing.





Plasma DC/RF loading image Research Areas loading image


SurfACE Lab - HiPIMS system & 2021 NSF Career




The Castano's research group focuses on tailoring the surface properties of materials by physical and chemical methods for engineering applications. The research areas are organized around four main fields: Nanotechnology, Surface Science, Functional Coatings, and Materials under Extreme Environments - Irradiation, Plasmas, and High Temperatures.

Industry Expertise (16)






Metalworking and Coatings Technology


Ceramics and Glass


Mechanical/Industrial Engineering


Renewables and Environmental





Areas of Expertise (9)

Surface Engineering

Functional Coatings

Nanomaterials Engineering

Corrosion Engineering

Thin film deposition and characterization

Lightweight Alloys

Plasma Physics

Advanced Materials Characterization


Accomplishments (3)

Roberto Rocca Fellow (professional)


Roberto Rocca Fellowships are given exceptional university graduates who are citizens of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico, Venezuela and Romania, and who will enter a Ph.D. program outside their own country or who have already begun their studies towards a Ph.D. at a university outside their own country. http://www.robertorocca.org/en/fellowships.aspx

Outstanding MSE Graduate Student Award at Missouri S&T (professional)


The materials science and engineering department at Missouri S&T recognizes every year a graduate student for his research and teaching outstanding contributions

NSF ASSIST/LEVERAGE Awardee 2019 (professional)


This award allows the faculty to participate in the Academic and Research Leadership Symposium (ARLS). The ARLS has two threads: (1) a faculty development thread, and (2) a research networking thread. The ARL Network promotes the discussion of ideas for improving networking among underrepresented minority faculty at a local and national level.

Education (4)

Virginia Commonwealth University: Postdoc, Chemical and Life Science Engineering

Research: “Synthesis of Heterogeneous Catalysts for Coupling Reactions” “Advanced Nanomaterials Synthesis and Characterization”

Missouri University of Science and Technology: Ph.D., Materials Science and Engineering

Dissertation: “Cerium-based Conversion Coatings on Mg Alloys”

National University of Colombia: M.Sc., Engineering - Materials and Processes

Thesis: “Special Optical Effects of Titanium Dioxide Coatings on Mica”

National University of Colombia: B.Sc., Engineering Physics

Thesis: “Production and Characterization of TiN Coatings Prepared by Sputtering DC”

Affiliations (3)

  • Alpha Sigma Mu (Honorary Member)
  • The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (Member)
  • The American Ceramic Society (Member)

Media Appearances (4)

VCU Commercialization Fund awards support to four VCU Engineering innovators



Carlos Castano, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, was funded to study a new method to modify the surface of metallic powders used for sintering, a process in which powders are converted into solid masses without being liquified. He hopes the work will expand the technology to coat metallic, ceramic and polymeric powders. The work also aims at improving the quality of the materials produced while increasing the scale. He says this will open a window for broader applications in solar energy, providing access to clean water, developing efficient carbon sequestration methods and engineering better medicines.

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NRC funds VCU Engineering team’s advanced materials investigations for improved reactor safety



The NRC has funded a VCU College of Engineering research team led by Jessika Rojas, Ph.D., to investigate the behavior of a set of nuclear materials, with the aim of improving the safety and performance of the U.S. nuclear power fleet.

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National Science Foundation CAREER awards

VCU  online


Carlos Castano, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering has received Faculty Early Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for 2021.

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New research could dramatically decrease the cost of producing pharmaceuticals

VCU NEWS  online


Researchers in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering and departments of Physics and Chemistry have discovered ways to accelerate chemical reactions that could dramatically decrease the costs of producing pharmaceuticals.

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Patents (2)

Multifunctional cerium-based nanomaterials and methods for producing the same



Embodiments relate to a cerium- containing nano-coating composition , the composition including an amorphous matrix including one or more of cerium oxide , cerium hydroxide , and cerium phosphate ; and crystalline regions including one or more of crystalline cerium oxide , crystal line cerium hydroxide , and crystalline cerium phosphate . The diameter of each crystalline region is less than about 50 nanometers .

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Carbon based materials as solid-state ligands for metal nanoparticle catalysts

US Patent 11,219,892


High activity metal nanoparticle catalysts, such as Pd or Pt nanoparticle catalyst, are provided. Adsorption of metal precursors such as Pd or Pt precursors onto carbon based materials such as graphene followed by solventless (or low-solvent) microwave irradiation at ambient conditions results in the formation of the catalysts in which metal nanoparticles are supported on i) the surface of the carbon based materials and ii) in/on/within defects/holes in the carbon based materials.

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Courses (4)

MECHANICAL SYSTEMS DESIGN - EGMN 300 - Fall 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

Basic principles of applied mechanics and materials employed for the design of machine elements and mechanical systems; state of stress, deformation and failure criterion is applied to bearings, brakes, clutches, belt drives, gears, chains, springs, gear trains, power screws and transmissions.

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Special Topic: Materials Synthesis Lab - EGMN 691 - Summer 2018

This graduate course covers the basic principles of materials synthesis. From the lab perspective, the design of materials from either solid, liquid, gas, or plasma phase will be presented targeting final properties and applications. Three basic modules are discussed in detail to target the Synthesis Processes for Metals, Ceramics, Polymers, and Composites of 1) Bulk Materials , 2) Nanomaterials, and 3) Thin Films

Special Topic: Functional Coatings - EGMN 691 Spring 2019, 2021

This graduate level course introduces basic and advanced concepts in the field of surface coatings physics and chemistry. The topics will include coating deposition methods and the relationship of the physical and chemical properties explaining the macroscopic functionality of the materials. Special emphasis will be placed in corrosion protection, wear, superhydrophobicity, optical, and electromagnetic applications.

Engineering Statics - EGMN 102 Spring 2020, 2022

The theory and application of engineering mechanics applied to the design and analysis of rigid structures. Equilibrium of two- and three-dimensional bodies. The study of forces and their effects. Applications to engineering systems.

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Selected Articles (7)

Controlling preferential growth of chromium–Nitrogen R-HiPIMS and R-DCMS films by substrate magnetic biasing

Applied Surface Science


The effect of magnetic biasing on the structure of Cr-N coatings deposited on silicon substrates by reactive magnetron sputtering has been investigated. The magnetic biasing setup consisted of a permanent magnet placed close to the substrate holder to modify the plasma species dynamics and deposition flux. Three magnetic field configurations for reactive direct current magnetron sputtering (R-DCMS) and reactive High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (R-HiPIMS) were compared. Deposition parameters such as deposition time, gun power, substrate distance, temperature, gas pressure, and gas composition were constant through the six R-DCMS/HiPIMS-magnetic-field combinations. Processes were monitored through optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and closely compared to the voltage and current curves at the target/substrate. An excitation mechanism was proposed accounting for the enhanced ionization detected by OES and the implications in the film’s growth. The films’ stoichiometry, structure, thickness, morphology, and crystal texture were characterized and associated with the process parameters. The R-DCMS processes led to Cr-N solid solution films, while the enhanced reactivity of R-HiPIMS plasma species increased the N content and formed CrN. Overall, the R-DCMS deposited samples were thicker than the R-HiPIMS deposited samples, but the different magnetic field biasing setups allowed for specific control of films’ thickness, texture, and microstructure.

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Hemocompatibility of plasma nitrided 316L stainless steel: Effect of processing temperature

Applied Surface Science


The influence of plasma nitriding temperature on the hemocompatibility of 316LSS was evaluated through in vitro thrombogenicity tests. The nitriding processes were carried out using an industrial furnace at a temperature range that does not impair the corrosion resistance. The crystallographic phases, topography, chemical composition, wettability, and thrombogenicity of the modified surfaces were evaluated and compared to untreated 316LSS samples. The results revealed the formation and evolution of the γN phase with increasing the temperature. The γN phase development was assessed with the stacking fault probability, which rose with temperature leading to rougher surfaces. Nitrided samples at 380 ˚C exhibited polar groups at the surface, increasing the surface energy. There was a substantial reduction of these groups in samples nitrided at 400 ˚C and almost negligible at 420 ˚C. Lower amounts and less activation of platelets was observed on the nitrided surface at the lowest temperature, contrary to the results obtained at the highest nitriding temperature. It was correlated with the hydrophobicity and roughness of the plasma nitrided surfaces. Through this investigation it is possible to propose adequate conditions of plasma nitriding to improve the hemocompatibility of 316LSS samples, reinforcing the feasibility of this processing technique for biomaterials on an industrial-scale.

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Catalytically sustainable, palladium-decorated graphene oxide monoliths for synthesis in flow

Chemical Engineering Journal


Continuous flow synthesis is an essential route towards high throughput manufacturing of fine chemical and pharmaceutical products. The mentioned chemistries are often catalyzed by solid-supported catalysts via packed beds which are characterized by multiple issues such as high pressure-drops, micro channeling through the bed, and leaching of the metallic catalyst into the product stream. These issues lower the overall process efficiency. Three dimensional (3D) structures, known as monoliths, with high porosity and mechanical robustness, offer the ideal properties to be used macroscopic supports for metallic catalyst particles. This approach has shown to alleviate several known issues with catalyst packed beds effectively.

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A Fundamental Analysis of Enhanced Cross–Coupling Catalytic Activity for Palladium Clusters on Graphene Supports



Combining the recyclability of heterogeneous catalysts with the high activity of ligated homogeneous catalysts for the production of complex organic molecules is a cardinal goal of catalyst development. We have investigated the activity of ultra-fine Pd clusters bound to vacancy defective sites in graphene and found that the defective graphene both serves as a support to stabilize the recyclable catalyst, and also functions as a ligand enhancing the catalytic activity. In this paper, we report computational and experimental results that provide insights into the nature of the interfacial interactions between metal nanoparticles and defect sites on the graphene surface. Theoretical investigations reveal that while the vacancy/void sites on the graphene surface strongly bind to the metal clusters providing enhanced stability against leaching, graphene also serves as a reservoir of electron density that effectively reduces the activation energy of specific steps within the catalytic cycle. Furthermore, multiple experimental methods were used to unambiguously demonstrate that these cross-coupling reactions are occurring at the Pd/G catalyst surface.

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Cerium-based oxide coatings

Current Opinion in Solid State and Materials Science


Cerium-based oxide compounds are known for their wide range of applications in catalysis, corrosion prevention, electrochemical cells, photocatalysis, UV absorbers, biomaterials, microelectronics, optical devices, thermal coatings, and glass abrasives. The technological applications of these materials are possible due to a combination of the electronic structure of Ce and the size effects at the nanoscale. In particular, reversible transformation between the Ce(III) and Ce(IV) oxidation states on the surface of cerium oxides is critical to the functionality and potential uses of the materials. In this paper, the main technological applications of cerium-based oxide coatings are reviewed based on the work done to date. Special interest is placed on the emerging trends.

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Microstructural Evolution of Cerium-Based Coatings on AZ31 Magnesium Alloys

Surface and Coatings Technology


The evolution of microstructure and chemistry was studied for AZ31 Mg alloy substrates after grinding, acid cleaning, alkaline cleaning, cerium-based conversion coating (CeCC) deposition, and phosphate post-treatment. Grinding provided a homogeneous surface with comparable amounts of oxides and hydroxides species. After acid treatment, this layer was ~ 90 nm thick, predominantly composed of oxide species (~ 85 at.%), and Mg deficient compared to the alloy chemistry. Treatment in an alkaline solution selectively removed Al species and produced a porous hydroxide layer. Immersion of the substrate in a cerium solution resulted in spontaneous deposition of a CeCC. Analysis revealed that the as-deposited CeCC contained more than 60 at.% Ce(IV) species with nodular CeO2 nanocrystals embedded in an amorphous Ce(III)-rich matrix. After post-treatment in a phosphate solution, the coating was transformed into a dense, homogenous layer with fewer cracks than the as-deposited CeCC and the content of Ce(IV) species decreased to ~ 50 at.%. The post-treated CeCC had a nodular morphology and contained a mixture of CeO2/CePO4•H2O nanocrystal species embedded in an amorphous matrix. Electrochemical results of as-deposited and post-treated CeCCs indicated an increase of ~ 4 × in the corrosion resistance compared to ground uncoated AZ31 Mg alloys in a 0.05 M NaCl electrolyte. However, the impedance spectra of the CeCCs at low frequencies showed that post-treated coatings not only have higher impedance but may also act as a barrier for active corrosion species. In general, each of the five processing steps had functionalized the surface of the AZ31 Mg alloy by reducing active cathodic sites, modifying the chemistry, changing the structure or forming protective layers. Understanding the coating evolution has provided insights on the surface preparation of Mg alloys and a basis for studying the response and evolution of these coatings after exposure to corrosive and ambient environments.

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Photo-assisted reduction in nanostructured cerium-based coatings

Scripta Materialia


Nanostructured cerium-based coatings on AZ31 Mg alloy substrates exposed to sunlight under ambient conditions had an ∼30% increase in Ce(III) species compared to unexposed coatings as measured by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. A decrease in film cracks and shift in bandgap from 2.5 eV to 2.7 eV were also measured. Visible changes in color, from yellow to translucent, with exposure were also observed and suggest that cerium-based coatings are reduced by light exposure in humid environments.

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