Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 17, 1995

Sharpe Takes Long Day's Journey to Share Ideas in South Africa

By Ken Keatley

     Bill Sharpe took a very long trip to talk about his work
with very small specimens.
     The longtime chairman of mechanical engineering at Hopkins,
Dr. Sharpe endured a 15-hour plane ride to spend two weeks during
November in South Africa, where he was a keynote lecturer at the
quinquennial National Conference on Fracture at the University of
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
     The conference provided an international forum for him to
present the findings of his pioneering work in experimental solid
mechanics; specifically, his use of a laser-based inferometric
system to measure mechanical properties in microsamples taken
from steel weldments.
     "With the end of apartheid, there are more opportunities for
cooperation among researchers than there were before," Dr. Sharpe
said. "This technique of mine has some applications in South
Africa, where they make some very novel hard materials from
minerals we don't have in this country."
     Dr. Sharpe was invited by Neil James, a professor at the
University of Witwatersrand, to attend the conference, which
emphasized practical applications in a variety of fatigue and
fracture technology areas. Dr. James came to Hopkins in 1987
specifically to study Dr. Sharpe's laser strain measuring system,
and built a similar device for the Council on Scientific and
Industrial Research in South Africa.  
     "But Neil's system has never really been used very much, so
they also had me go up to the federal research institute while I
was there to get it working and give them some suggestions on
applications," Dr. Sharpe explained.
     Dr. Sharpe's research in the area of microsample testing is
becoming increasingly important. While large weldments, such as
in bridges and buildings, can be tested using traditional means,
smaller weldments in ships and automobiles require more
sophisticated testing techniques to ensure their accuracy.
     His laser technique, which he began developing some 30 years
ago as a Hopkins graduate student, is also being formulated for
testing the materials used in micro-electromechanical systems,
tiny motors and clips that are smaller than a millimeter.
     Not all was work, though, as Dr. Sharpe sampled the cultural
and geographic wonders of a diverse and ever-evolving land. He
visited a diamond mine and a game park, and even made a trip to
the parents of Hopkins colleague Andrew Douglas in Pretoria.
     And while impressed by the beauty of the countryside, where
rolling hills are topped with shrubs, and the majesty of cities
like Johannesburg, Dr. Sharpe also saw first-hand the poverty and
squalor that define the existence of many in South Africa.
     "There continue to be real fundamental problems, but there
is optimism about the future," said Dr. Sharpe. "My uninformed
opinion of what South Africa needs is for Nelson Mandela to stay
alive for another 10 years. There seems to be universal
admiration for him."
     He was also grateful for the opportunity to observe the
organization of the mechanical engineering department at
Witwatersrand, where a senior design program is similar to the
one offered at Hopkins.
     "Probably, their mechanical engineers are educated as well
as ours," Dr. Sharpe said. "It was a neat experience to see them

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