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Metal Detectives: New Book Details <i>Titanic</i> Investigation

For Immediate Release: April 15, 2008

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Contact: Michael Baum
301-975-2763

In February 1998, Timothy Foecke, a metallurgist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), published a rather low-key “interagency report” that cast a new and intriguing light on one of the most famous marine disasters in history, the sinking of RMS Titanic. Now in a new book, What Really Sank the Titanic, Foecke and colleague Jennifer Hooper McCarty tell the full story of their investigation into how one of the most unassuming of villains—the wrought iron hull rivets—brought about the loss of one of the world’s most advanced ocean liners and more than 1,500 passengers and crew.

While there obviously were several factors, Foecke argued in his preliminary report, the critical failure could have been the use of brittle, substandard wrought iron rivets to hold the giant ship’s hull plates together. (See “Failure of Tiny Rivets May Have Sunk ’Unsinkable’ Liner” NIST Update, Feb. 17, 1998.) The shock of the collision with an iceberg would have popped off the heads of large numbers of rivets, hull plates opening up like a zipper to let in the seawater. What Really Sank the Titanic gives the back story. Ranging from vignettes on the working conditions of Irish shipyard workers in 1912 and the business pressures on the White Star Line, the ship's owners, to the science and techniques of a modern metallurgy lab, with side trips to review contemporary testimony on the accident, Foecke and McCarty combine history and forensics to discover just what caused the ill-fated ship’s demise.

For more information, see “CSI: Titanic.”