May 2010

A man of integrity

Georges Kipouros speaks on materials and their environment

By M. Eisner

Georges Kipouros likes to talk about degradation — at least as it pertains to mining. The professor of materials engineering and director of the Minerals Engineering Centre at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is one of the CIM Distinguished Lecturers for 2009-10. In his presentation, “Materials and asset integrity,” Kipouros discusses the present understanding of the interplay between materials and their environment, the design of materials and the effects of these parameters on corrosion.

“It’s a topic that covers the extensive area of mining and the three branches of CIM — minerals, metallurgy and petroleum,” Kipouros explains. “Everybody is either limited by a lack of materials or is affected by the degradation of materials. The earth provides us with oil, minerals and wood, which we transform into materials that are processed to be of suitable use to certain industries. That is what the presentation is about: the natural cycle of materials,  how we produce, specify and use them, and how we recycle them.”

Kipouros worked on material processing for many years, focusing particularly on metals. Eventually, he realized that his knowledge could be extended to how materials degrade and how to protect them from degradation, examples of which are given in his lecture. “I discuss new coatings available and how they can protect material from degradation,” he explains. “Another element is design. There are a lot of mistakes people make in design, such as placing two materials together that are not supposed to go together  — this can degrade an asset.”

“We also try to understand the factors that help maintain the integrity of materials used for the past 50 years,” he says.  “I have asked my PhD students to do their research projects on how specific elements, such as iron, can protect copper nickel alloys.”

Near the end of his lecture, Kipouros introduces an interesting twist. “When we refer to assets, normally we look at infrastructure and equipment. But, at the end of the lecture, I ask the audience, ‘Are humans assets?’” He says that because the crux of his lecture points to corrosion as the main culprit responsible for asset degradation, a typical response from the audience is, “Do humans corrode?”

“If I had asked a question like this back when I was a student, they would have recommended me seeing a doctor,” jokes Kipouros. “But now, with biomedical/biomaterials engineering, all the parts of a human being can essentially be replaced — a knee, hip, heart valve. Prostheses are made of metals, and metals corrode. The only difference is the medium. Instead of the sea that corrodes, it’s the blood. A comparison between both media is difficult; how do you translate a few millimetres per year of corrosion into human pain?”

Kipouros says he tries to structure his lectures in a fun, easy-to-understand manner, and even runs the content by his university-aged son to make sure the language he uses is listener-friendly. “I avoid complex terms and abstruse technical details. My understanding of CIM local branch meetings is that the audience may include the whole spectrum of the industry — miners, geologists, petroleum and metallurgical people. My lecture is for everyone.”

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