Surface modification can improve materials for structural, tribological, and corrosion applications. Excimer laser light has been shown to provide a rapid means of modifying surfaces through heat treating, surface zone refining, and mixing. Laser pulses at modest power levels can easily melt the surfaces of many materials. Mixing within the molten layer or with the gas ambient may occur, if thermodynamically allowed, followed by rapid solidification. The high temperatures allow the system to overcome kinetic barriers found in some ion mixing experiments. Alternatively, surface zone refinement may result from repeated melting-solidification cycles.
Ultraviolet laser light couples energy efficiently to the surface of metallic and ceramic materials. The nature of the modification that follows depends on the properties of the surface and substrate materials. Alloying from both gas and pre-deposited layer sources has been observed in metals, semiconductors, and ceramics. Surface enrichment of Cr by zone refinement of stainless steel has also been seen. Rapid solidification after melting often results in the formation of non-equilibrium phases, including amorphous materials. Improved surface properties, including tribology and corrosion resistance, are observed in these materials.