Debbie Aliya is the owner and president of Aliya Analytical, Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., and specializes in failure analysis and prevention. She has a BS in Metallurgy and Materials Science from Carnegie Mellon University and an MS in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University. She is also an IMT associate.
For those of us who would like to gain high-level competence in any profession, it’s critical to explore many of the branches of the tree of knowledge. If you are helping others solve technical problems, deep knowledge in the advertised subject matter is required. Communication skills serve as one example of a crucial additional area of required expertise.
A related topic is critical thinking. Over the years, I have come to define critical thinking as the ability to confirm that the proper context has been defined. In more technical language, critical thinking is the process of selecting the most appropriate and useful boundary conditions.
In engineering school, we have laboratory classes so that we can also learn from our own experience. Is the iron crystal structure really cubic? We might be given a chance to perform X-ray diffraction in a lab and be required to work out the angles between the planes of the crystal from the dot patterns on an X-ray detector.
Finally, the technician may examine the fracture surfaces to determine the “% shear.” Shear technically implies ductility at both macro and micro scales, although the test method does not require anything more than a visual check using the eyeballs.
One of most important technical issues that a fracture analyst must deal with is evaluating whether the crack was ductile or brittle. Here we are talking about visible characteristics revealed to the human eye, and we are strictly discussing structures with features that are readily viewed with the human eye.
Since people generally come to failure analysts when they can’t figure things out for themselves, it’s important to have access to reliable facts, know how to recognize them and be able to explain to people why our facts are indeed of the reliable kind!
From last time, what is the fact there? We no longer have a simple fact that is a simple carbon content read off a simple list of elemental concentration values. We have results from a sequence of tests that were determined to be suspicious by the chemist who was performing the work.