A hundred years ago this Sunday, a luxury ocean liner billed as “unsinkable” hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage. The Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic, leaving more than 1,500 passengers and crew dead.
On this weekend’s centennial, many are revisiting the story of the disaster and trying to piece together how it happened.
Two University of Washington engineers play a key role in a documentary airing for the first time Sunday on the History Channel. The program sets out to test a leading theory about why the ship sank – that substandard rivets failed and caused the hull to rip open.
The program follows a 2010 expedition by a group of researchers and naval historians to create the first complete map of the 15-square-mile wreck site. Experts studied the maps to come up with new theories about why the ship failed.
Last fall, naval historians traveled to Seattle with a camera crew to test the failed-rivet theory.
Brian Flinn , a UW research associate professor of materials science and engineering, used his expertise in materials testing and failure to help carry out the experiment.
The historians first obtained aged steel from a ship built in the same era as the Titanic that sank in Puget Sound.
“If you just went and bought normal steel today, it wouldn’t behave in the same way,” Flinn said. “The chemistry of steel has evolved quite a bit over time.”
Ballard Forge then replicated the joint geometry of that time to recreate a section of the hull, and created three samples about the size of a large door.