In March 2015, I led a group of six materials science and engineering students (David Freiberg, William McDonnell, Caelyn Palmer, Christine Palmer, and Travis Weiss) to participate in the Bladesmithing Competition at The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS) 2015 Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. The Bladesmithing club team was formed in late summer 2014 when TMS announced the competition. As the president of the Drexel chapter of Material Advantage (a student organization for materials professional societies, including TMS), I encouraged students to participate in the competition. At the beginning of fall term 2014, the group formed under Dr. Richard Knight and Dr. Mitra Taheri, both from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
Thanks to the Drexel chapter of Material Advantage, the sponsors of the chapter, and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, our group was able to receive training, access to blacksmithing facilities at Hot Metal Alliance, and obtain materials for processing. During our training, each group member used bladesmithing techniques to forge their own knife from scratch. With the goal of making something remarkable, we decided to create a three-foot-long sword. After selecting 5160 spring steel as our blade material, we designed the body with a full-size drawing on paper. Next, we translated the drawing to the steel piece for initial shape cutting. We then forged the sword to have an edge ranging from a half-inch to a few millimeters in thickness. The sword was complete, with a nice curvature on the body. Based on the theories we learned from our metals processing class, we heat treated the metal to have a spheroidized structure, and made several specimens from the scrap pieces during cutting to perform mechanical testing and microscopies. Finally, the sword was polished and coated as our final product.
Five of us attended the conference in Orlando to present our sword. The following year, I gave an oral presentation on our work with some updates at the Bladesmithing Symposium at the TMS 2016 Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee. At the conferences, I had the opportunity to connect with students and professionals from bladesmithing teams at other schools, as well as professional bladesmithing artisans, while showing them what our group accomplished at Drexel.
Metallurgy used to be the main component of materials science and engineering, but with the emergence of polymeric materials, biomedical materials, and nanoscience, the curriculum in materials engineering no longer has a strong emphasis in metallurgy due to the time constraints for undergraduate studies. Having a bladesmithing group and participating in the Bladesmithing Competition and Symposium gave us the opportunity to apply the theories we learned from courses to a real project. We also gained better appreciation of metallurgy and the history of metallurgy and bladesmithing.