Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Testing Its Metal Professor Thinks Titanic's Steel Partly to Blame

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Testing Its Metal Professor Thinks Titanic's Steel Partly to Blame

Article excerpt

A half-hour before midnight on April 14, 1912, the "unsinkable" luxury ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic and began sinking. More than 1,500 of its 2,227 passengers died.

Survivors said the impact filled the still, moonless night with loud cracking noises.

Now Phil Leighly, a professor of metallurgical engineering at the University of Missouri at Rolla, is hoping three wooden crates he received last week will help him figure out why the steel-hulled ship cracked. Inside those crates were more than 400 pounds of the three-quarter-inch steel plate of the Titanic's hull. Over the next month, Leighly will perform a variety of tests - the first-ever on large pieces of the Titanic - to confirm his theory that the metal was inferior, a factor in the catastrophe. In an interview last week, Leighly explained that steel containing oxygen, nitrogen or sulfur is brittle and will break like glass. Steel largely free of those elements is ductile and will bend like a soda can. Using chemical analysis, an electron microscope and other advanced tests, Leighly hopes to prove the loud cracking noise heard by passengers was the brittle steel of the Titanic shattering. Leighly, who has done similar examinations on World War II ships, emphasized that the Titanic's steel would be judged inferior only when judged against today's standards. "The steel was probably the best available in 1912," he said. "They didn't understand the mechanics of ductile-brittle behavior." The wreckage of the Titanic was discovered in 1985 some 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, Canada. A crew out of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution lowered a video camera into the ocean and spotted one of the ship's boilers. In 1993, a salvage company won the right to bring debris from the wreckage to the surface. …

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