Recent tests of steel from the Titanic reveal that the metal was much more brittle than modern steel but the best available at the time, a metallurgical engineering professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla says in a paper to be published in the January 1998 issue of Journal of Metals.
The steel used to build the Titanic was not as "impact-resistant" as modern steel, according to Dr. H.P. Leighly, a professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering at UMR. But it was the best steel available at the time, says Leighly, who studied some 200 pounds of steel from the wreckage.
Leighly's paper, co-authored by UMR metallurgical engineering student Katie Felkins, will appear in the January 1998 issue of Journal of Metals, the publication of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers.
Inferior steel wasn't the only reason the luxury ocean liner Titanic sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Other factors -- such as flaws in the ship's design, the crew's negligence and the lack of lifeboats -- also contributed to the disaster, Leighly says.
"The naval architects can point their fingers and say, 'It was bad steel'" that caused the Titanic to sink, Leighly says. "It's easy to point a finger and say, 'Bad steel.' But it's uncomfortable to point at yourself and say, 'Bad design.'"
More than 1,500 of the liner's 2,227 passengers died after the Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, some 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The ship struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14 and sank at 2:20 a.m. April 15.
In 1996 and early 1997, Leighly, Felkins and one other undergraduate student tested steel from the ship's hull and bulkhead in an attempt to figure out why the steel-hulled ship cracked. The UMR analysis is the second -- and most comprehensive -- ever conducted on steel from the Titanic. The only other test was conducted by the Canadian government and involved a Frisbee- sized piece of steel, in which researchers concluded that the ship's hull fractured when it met the iceberg.
At UMR, chemical and stress tests of metal samples from the Titanic's hull and bulkhead show that the steel used to build the ship was very inferior to modern steel. Impact tests conducted by Felkins show that the steel from the Titanic was about 10 times more brittle than modern steel when tested at freezing temperature -- the estimated temperature of the water at the time the Titanic struck the iceberg.
Tests of the steel's chemical composition also showed a high content of sulfur, oxygen and phosphorus. High levels of those elements cause steel to be more brittle, Leighly says.
The chemical analysis also revealed a low level of manganese -- another symptom of brittle steel. Steel with a higher level of manganese is more ductile and less likely to break.
Materials provided by University Of Missouri-Rolla. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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