ASM International Materials camp

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 3:37pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

Y‑12 co-sponsors an annual science camp where students (perhaps budding scientists and future Y‑12 employees) get hands-on experience with materials.

Twenty East Tennessee high school students had the rare opportunity to use scanning electron and optical microscopes as part of the ASM International Materials Camp held last summer in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Many engineers would panic at students operating such expensive instruments (about $245,000 for both scopes), but not Steve Dekanich, a Y-12 engineer in Quality Assurance and camp co-chairman. “The only thing scary about it was how scary smart these high school students were,” he said.

Both Dekanich and Y-12 have worked with the camp since 2006 to introduce students to materials science, which involves the properties of materials and their application. The hope, he said, is to spark interest. Maybe a few participants will even apply for Y-12 positions someday.

This year students learned to use the scanning electron and optical microscopes to evaluate good and defective welds that SpaceX — the first privately held company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station — produced specifically for the camp.

Four teams each examined three SpaceX launch vehicle and spacecraft mock control line welds and performed a failure analysis (why did something blow up, break down or fall apart) and materials characterization (is a material fit for its intended use). At the macro and microscopic level, students evaluated the welds. Some participants were surprised to find that what they were told was stainless steel was actually high nickel chromium. “Our first clue was when we tried to saw off a piece to mount for a slide,” said one student. “We went through about three blades trying to cut it.”

The weeklong camp helped several students decide whether to pursue materials science, a field essential to Y-12's nuclear weapons work. Since the Materials Camp began, 10 participants have enrolled in the University of Tennessee's College of Engineering.