Amateur metallurgist Gary Cola has found a way to create better steel, and he only had to ignore five centuries of tradition to do it.
In traditional steel manufacturing, iron and carbon are combined to form an alloy with properties that make it perfect for millions of applications. Since the Renaissance, this generally entailed heating both in a furnace for prolonged periods of time (hours or even days), and even in the modern era that is still essentially the process mankind uses to create the 1.3 billion tons of the stuff it consumes every year.
Cola's method however, heats the elements to intensely high temperatures almost instantaneously, then immediately cools them. The resulting alloy is 7 percent stronger than traditional steel, and boasts a fracture toughness that rivals titanium.
"Flash Bainite" also boasts improved ductility; that is, the ability to crumple on impact without actually breaking. Even more than a material's sheer strength, ductility is a property widely prized by auto manufacturers hoping to ensure the survival of their customers in case of collision.
Engadget claims the entire process "takes all of about 10 seconds," making it both more energy efficient and cheaper than current steel production methods.
Most impressively, Gary Cola is completely self taught. He has no degree in metallurgy and when he approached Ohio State University associate professor of materials science and engineering Suresh Babu with his discovery, the idea was dismissed as impossible. Undeterred, Cola invited Babu and his students to Detroit to witness the process firsthand in his lab.
"The process that Gary described -- it shouldn't have worked. I didn't believe him. So he took my students and me to Detroit," Babu said.
"We asked for a few samples to test, and it turned out that everything he said was true."
Babu and Cola are now working together to discern the physics behind the Flash Bainite formula.
The moral of this story? College degrees are for chumps (assuming you can simultaneously revolutionize the field of materials science and global production capacity).