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Q&A with Dr. Edward Evans

An interview with Dr. Edward Evans, associate professor of chemical engineering at The University of Akron: 

Describe the field of corrosion engineering and tell us what a corrosion engineer does.

Evans: Corrosion engineering, like other engineering disciplines, is the application of fundamental science to problems or challenges that involve personal safety, structural reliability, environmental impact and/or profit for a company.

In corrosion engineering we apply an understanding of materials and their interaction with the environment to structures that have length scales measured in millionths of an inch to kilometers.

The program that we have put together, at The University of Akron, focuses on fundamentals and provides a substantial amount of engineering project management to the students.

Talk a little bit about the history of this field and how it has developed over the years.

Evans: Corrosion engineering has existed since the first time a structure was degraded in its environment, and someone had to fix the problem either with some sort of patch or coating or by replacing the structure all together.

NACE International, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, has some very nice resources that provide a history of corrosion engineering.  

The Romans wrote about the degradation of iron in the first century AD (Pliny) since that time the research/discoveries of scientists like Galvani, Faraday, Langmuir, and Pourbaix have helped engineers prevent or mitigate corrosion. 

Corrosion is a major cost in the U.S. every year, but not one that we generally hear about very often. Can you provide a few numbers that put the cost of corrosion in perspective? 

Evans: We don't often hear the word corrosion but we do here about material failure and as I am sure your listeners are aware the state of our nation's infrastructure (bridges, power plants, pipelines, etc) is a crisis. 

In 2005, there was a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that showed corrosion was costing the U.S. economy more than $270 billion annually. 

That figure has been updated recently to $400 billion.  As much as 30% of these costs are avoidable if best practices are used. The remainder requires new science and technology. 

Tell us about the faculty.

Evans: We have recruited some highly talented people to our program, including Joe Payer, who is an internationally recognized expert in corrosion engineering. Subsequently, we have added more faculty members as we build the best program for our students.

What types of degrees will the new program offer?

Evans: We plan to offer a B.S. and an M.S. and, for those interested in graduate study now, they can pursue an interdisciplinary Ph.D.

Is this a field in which graduate study is generally required or can students usually be employed as corrosion engineers with a baccalaureate?

Evans: No, not required. It is a wonderful opportunity for students to progress rapidly within a company, for the Department of Defense or other organizations. We will prepare students to hit the ground running.

Are there any other programs in the country similar to that which is coming to The University of Akron?

Evans: University Corrosion Collaboration and other schools have graduate programs, but we will have the first undergraduate program. Students from our program will be prepared to either enter the workforce directly or to pursue graduate degrees.

Why so little emphasis on this type of engineering, and do we see the same thing in other countries?

Evans: Same trends in other countries.  We have simply taken the attitude that either corrosion is unavoidable and there is nothing you can do about it or we will build things cheaply and replace them.  As a result we have the crisis that I mentioned earlier.  It is time to do something about corrosion at several levels.  We have had extensive surveys of job demand in corrosion and reliability completed and the results indicate that there will be significant job growth in this area for the foreseeable future.  When we meet with companies they are anxious to offer co-op opportunities for our students.

In the U.S., given the lack of specialists in corrosion engineering, who has been doing corrosion work?

Evans: Currently chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers, and chemists dominant the field, but they often require significant training once on the job. Our students, like our other engineering students, will be prepared to have impact the first day on the job. 

How do you plan to market this new program and attract students?

Evans: Through news and media outlets like this one where we can discuss the success of our students.  Through interaction with school systems locally and across the state.  We hope to offer scholarships through programs like Choose Ohio First.

This program will eventually be a part of the new engineering building being built at The University of Akron.  Talk about that building and the progress on it.

Evans: This building will be a 39,000 square foot facility on Wolf Ledges Parkway, near the Turbine Facility. It is under construction right now. Completion is expected in the winter of 2011-12.  See a story about the progress on this project.

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