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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

In the last couple of days, I've had occasion to be harking back to my former life. Once upon a time, I was a steelmaker. My undergraduate degree is in metallurgical engineering, and I spent a few years gainfully employed in the field-- first as a process metallurgist in a manufacturing plant; then as a production metallurgist in a steel mill.

That time often seems to be little related to my current endeavors. The study of theology, scripture and Greek do not have a lot in common with thermodynamics, crystallography or physical metallurgy. But, as my mom used to remind us, there's no such thing as wasted education; and they do find ways to intersect, sometimes in strange and wonderful patterns. It never ceases to amaze me.

For whatever reason, I've found myself referring to that period of my life several times recently: drawing comparisons and finding understanding in one arena, based on the other.

Last night, a late-night mention of the intricacies of Greek grammar (yes, seminarians do this, and some of us even enjoy it!), brought to mind another way that intricacy and complication served to bring some clarity, once I learned to wrap my mind around it. So I thought to share.

What you're seeing here is an Iron-Carbon Phase Diagram: a visual representation of how the crystal structure (and therefore the physical properties and performance) of steel changes, depending on temperature and carbon content. This is the framework-- the grammar, if you will-- upon which steelmaking is based. If you'd like to know more, you can find some explanation, and some useful definitions here.

I don't use it much anymore; but once upon a time, it was part of the fabric of my every day. Isn't it a beautiful thing?


Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Aren't "thermodynamics", "crystallography", and "metallurgy" Greek?

November 11, 2004 1:57 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Maybe so... but still easier than a football diagram. ;-)

November 11, 2004 9:53 PM  

Blogger Beth said...

I think you made Ryan's day with the faulty link on my blog. Phase diagrams are one of the great joys of her life.

November 11, 2004 10:15 PM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...

Yes, it is. I especially like the bit in the upper left corner.

I remember the phase diagram from my one and only materials science class. It reminds me of Feynman diagrams, which are used in physics. To many people, they both look like just so many lines on paper, but if you ken the diagrams, they are both elegant and informative.

In physics, which believes it is on the road to a "theory of everything", these diagrams are widely used to represent what really happens. However, they are just that, representations.

Much the same are our explanations of God. To borrow from a Buddhist proberb, they are not the moon, but a finger pointing at the moon.

(Sorry about the ramble. It happens when I think about God and physics at the same time.)

November 11, 2004 10:49 PM  

Blogger Justin said...


Reading the comments and looking at the diagrams...I conclude Greek is easier to unerstand


November 12, 2004 7:38 AM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

This is so neat! I take it that steel is a crytalline lattice of ferrous-carbon? No wonder it is hard! Why then isn't it brittle? Why do fencing foils bend? I know they are made of steel. Are they combined with some sort of alloy to permit flexibility? How can you get the hardness of carbon-ferrous and not have the brittleness of the lattice structure that would necessarily ensue?

Thank you for this link.

November 12, 2004 4:49 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Hey, Shari! I'm delighted to have posted something of which you approve! ;-)

Seriously, let's see if I can answer your questions. Yes, steel is a ferrous-carbon crystalline compound, most often-- though not always-- alloyed with other metals. It's the addition of nickel and chromium, for example, that allows rust-resistant and stainless steels.

Alloys do affect other properties as well: hardness, brittleness, ductility, etc. But those factors also can be controlled, to some extent, by (1) carbon content and (2) heat treatment. More carbon produces a more brittle steel. Above 2% carbon, in fact, it ceases to be called steel, and is instead cast iron, which is very brittle indeed.

As you can see in the diagram, the right combination of factors changes what kind of crystal structure the steel assumes. This is why, depending on the end use, some steel will be quenched-- submerged quickly into water, to "freeze" a given structure in place.

Additionally, steel that needs more flexibility (like your fencing foil)- may be tempered-- held at comparatively low heat for a time, in order to release stresses in the structure that are worked in by processing, which would cause it to snap under pressure. If you've ever bent a coat hangar or a paper clip until it breaks, that's what's happening-- a process is called "work hardening." Stress is being placed in the crystal structure, which becomes then both harder and more brittle, and eventually breaks under pressure.

I think that covers it. Thanks for asking!

November 12, 2004 5:39 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

So do we need to be "tempered" or "quenched"?

Grin, duck and run!

PS. Thanks for the explanation.

November 12, 2004 6:03 PM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Hey, this is fun. To answer Shari's question on a serious note. I think it's more important for us to be tempered. Still strong in our make up, but flexible enough not to break.

November 13, 2004 8:26 AM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Actually, I think that _I_ probably could use a (considerable amount of) "tempering". However on a serious note, I think that those in Holy Orders probably need more in the way of "quenching". After all, it is y'all who are entrusted with the duty of "guarding the faith preserved". The job of the laity is simply to be faithful. To be a "rector", after all means to keep "straight". If a rod of steel is too flexible, it can be pretzled into its opposite. You don't need too many folks "quenched" into the pattern of Holy Orders, but you do need some. Perhaps that is what ordination confers. (BTW congrads to Tripp+).

November 13, 2004 3:21 PM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...

Shari, steel can be both quenched and tempered. Strong, tough, yet flexible, not brittle. Just the thing for someone in Holy Orders - or anyone, for that matter.

November 13, 2004 9:47 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Steel is a useful metal. However a steel shield that is so flexible that it bends, and leave the shieldbearer exposed, is no better than one that shatters with a blow. Either "shield" is worse than no shield, for they weigh down a soldier and take one arm out of commission, while providing nothing in return.

There are limits to "flexibilty" and the Episcopal church appears to have reached those limits in that even monotheism appears to now be up for "discussion" and "exploration" and "conversation".

This is not an academic matter for me. I have a keen appreciation for those who are attracted to "other gods", including gods like Kali or for that matter Ashtoreth. I grew up in a culture where other gods still reign and used to reign more freely. For all that Asia is ungrateful to her one time English overlords, I for one would not care to see the temples of Kali revitalized. It was Christianity that put down the custom of suttee. It was Christianity that provided orphanages and schools for the "untouchables". It was Christianity that pushed for free public education. "The white man's burden" obnoxious and sanctimonious as it was, bought women and the poor protections that neither Islam, nor Hinduism ever provided, and which Buddhism with its nihilism simply ignored. The other "gods" became humanized under the Christian domination, however they have not died, and they will not remain docile, and kindly without the influence of Christianity. The other gods are different from our God. The bishops of the Global South realize this, because they are closer to the preChristian world than are those bishops in the US and Canada who never knew a world without Christ.

The Anglicans who drove the Thuggees (devotees of Kali) (further) underground would despair at what passes for "conversation" and "exploration" in TEC. But then, they understood the nature of the old gods better than we do, who were raised in Christian soil.

Kendal Harmon links a useful post from Mike Mcdonald on the Episcopagan flap.


McDonald writes: "Generally speaking, I prefer open-mindedness over narrow-mindedness. But there are contexts in which "exploratory thinking" is not acceptable.

When I said my wedding vows 21 years ago, I closed my mind to the idea of having sexual relations with any other woman. If I have a commitment to democracy, I do not do "exploratory thinking" about the possibility of dictatorship.

If I have a commitment to the dignity of all humans, there is no "exploratory thinking" about racism. And if I have a commitment to Christ, I close my mind to exploring paganism as a part of my religious faith. Studying paganism and participating in its rituals are two entirely different things."

At some point TEC is going to need to decide if it wishes to be steel or to be rubber. Right now, her focus on being a "big tent" makes rubber a desirable material to work with. But rubber tents are materials for keeping off rain, not flaming arrows, cannon balls, or enemy attacks. Those of us who have some knowlege of what a non-Christian world looks like, would like our fortresses built of something a little more solid.

November 14, 2004 3:19 PM  

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