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Bladesmiths Demonstrate Materials Science for Students, Faculty

A professor holding class outside on a balmy fall day is not an unusual sight to see on campus. It may be slightly out of the norm on The Hill, but still not entirely unheard of. However, throw in some fire, hammers and steel, and then it becomes a unique event.

This is what students encountered as they walked past Ferris Hall last Friday and heard the clanging of hammer on anvil, came closer and discovered “The Art and Science of the Forged Blade” – a seminar by the University of Tennessee College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“Usually what we’re doing is sitting in a classroom or auditorium doing PowerPoint demonstrations and there’s good merit in that,” said Oak Ridge National Laboratory – UT joint faculty Jamie Morris. “But for a difference, I thought it would be good to get the graduate students and the faculty outside seeing someone actually doing the craft of metallurgy.”

Morris explained some of the research being done with alloys today with efforts to make them “stronger, lighter, more radiation resistant for nuclear applications.” His own research relates specifically to the demonstration Friday as it deals with strength and hardness of materials and how defects can form.

Hammer and anvil at "Art and Science of the Forged Blade" event at Ferris Hall.

Demonstrating the hands-on application of the research being conducted in the materials science field were two nationally acclaimed blacksmiths, Wes Byrd and Larry “The Hammer” Harley.

This is a second vocation for Byrd. A former nuclear engineer with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he has been forging steel for only 12 years. Harley, however, is a third-generation bladesmith and was a cast member on the National Geographic Channel’s show, “Lords of War.”

The two have helped organize a Youth “Hammer-In” through the American Blade Society at Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville, Tennessee for the last 10 years.

Morris said that he hopes to make this event an annual occurrence for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. If that happens, Harley would like to extend the event to include the School of Art, “because it really is an art and a science.”