Lehigh University
Lehigh University


A monopoly on metallography

Brian Gerard ’09 M.S. prepared defect-free magnesium.

Lehigh’s materials science and engineering department has strengthened its hold on one of the top competitions in the field.

Since 1999, students from the department have received the Jacquet-Lucas Best in Show Award eight times at the annual International Metallographic Contest, which is sponsored by the International Metallographic Society (IMS).

Before 1999, no student had won the award in its 55 years of existence.

When the IMS’s 2009 competition was held recently in Richmond, Va., Lehigh students recorded their most impressive effort yet. Brian Gerard, who completed an M.S. in materials science and engineering in May, received the Jacquet-Lucas Award. Lehigh teams took first and second place for undergraduate student entries in metals and metal alloys. And Anthony Ventura ’11 won first place for artistic color microscopy.

The students were advised by Wojciech Misiolek, professor of materials science and engineering, and Samuel Lawrence, research scientist and director of Lehigh’s metallography labs. Misiolek teaches Mat 206: Processing and Properties of Metals, the course in which most of this year’s IMS contestants prepared their posters. Lawrence is an instructor in the course.

“We insisted that the quality of the posters that the students produced in Mat 206 be top-notch,” Misiolek says. “When some of the teams did exceptional work, we suggested they enter the IMS contest.

“No poster from Mat 206 had ever been submitted to the IMS contest before.”

Lawrence, who joined Lehigh’s staff one year ago, won the Jacquet-Lucas Award himself in 1996, when he worked for Bethlehem Steel. He served as a judge at the contest from 1997 until last year.

“I feel like an athlete who has gone into coaching,” Lawrence says. “I’m happier now for the students than I was for myself when I won. What they accomplished is amazing. They were competing against seasoned professionals with Ph.D.s who work at top corporations and national labs.”

Much of the credit for the students’ achievements, Lawrence says, belongs to Arlan Benscoter, who advised all of Lehigh’s previous IMS winners and who recently retired from Lehigh after serving a quarter-century in the position that Lawrence now holds.

“I got my start in metallography with Arlan in 1984 at Bethlehem Steel,” Lawrence says. “I’ve always considered him to be my mentor. His ideas of perfection and his work ethic set the standard for me and what my goals should be. That’s one of the reasons we pushed the students.”

A blend of science and art

Metallography is the science and art of using light optical microscopy to study and photograph metal surfaces that have been treated with chemical etchants. Metallography enables scientists to analyze materials qualitatively and quantitatively, determine their properties, and find new applications for them.

One critical step in metallography, say Misiolek and Lawrence, is selecting an etchant that reveals a material’s properties thoroughly and artistically.

This was especially true for Gerard, who is now a research scientist with the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. Gerard’s poster, titled “Anisotropy and Voiding at High Strain Rates in a Mg Alloy Extrudate,” was the result of 18 months of research into magnesium.

“Brian had to overcome two major challenges in his project,” Lawrence says. “Magnesium has to be formed through extrusion. It forms artifacts, or defects, very readily. And it’s also susceptible to corrosion.

“Brian used an unusual preparation technique and was able to produce artifact-free magnesium, which is extremely difficult. This was a significant accomplishment because it enabled him to be sure that the defects he was analyzing occurred during fabrication and were not inadvertently caused during the preparation of the material.”

Gerard’s research will be useful to automakers, who are considering magnesium as a potential replacement material for steel or aluminum in car frames, Lawrence says.

Finding relevance at a flea market

The other award winners were Thomas Nizolek ’10, Jared LaBar ’10 and Abigail Lawrence ’10, who won first place and the George Kehl Plaque for undergraduate student entries in metals and metal alloys. Their poster was titled “A Metallographic Investigation of a Bi-metallic Diesel Exhaust Valve.”

Kevin Winders ’09, Andrew Thome ’10, Edmund Zalenski ’10 and Matthew Wojciechowski ’10 took second place in the same category for a poster titled “Metallographic Examination of Biomedical Screws.”

Posters were graded for clarity, conciseness, accuracy in failure analysis, effectiveness of the preparation technique used, and relevance of the project.

Students in the two teams addressed the relevance requirement in resourceful ways. Winders’ team analyzed the screws that were placed in Winders’ leg following an injury. Nizolek’s team examined a diesel exhaust valve that Nizolek picked up at a flea market. The valve had been manufactured using a spin-welding technique, and then coated.

Anthony Ventura ’11 uncovered a skull-like pattern in bamboo.

Ventura, who won for artistic color microscopy, was equally adept at spotting opportunity. While helping Lawrence clean out an old darkroom, he had come across bamboo tongs that were used to handle camera film without scratching it. He cut, mounted and polished the tongs, observed a pattern of highly suggestive images, and titled his poster “Skull Island.”

The previous Lehigh winners of the IMS Jacquet-Lucas Award, all of whom were advised by Benscoter, were Nizolek (2008), Ryan Deacon (2006), Fredrick F. Noecker (2002 and 2003), Daniel J. Lewis and Sarah L. Allen (2000) and Kevin Luer (1999). Kinga Unocic, who won the award in 2007 as a graduate student at Ohio State University, had previously worked in Lehigh’s Institute of Metal Forming as a visiting research scholar.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, September 08, 2009

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