(Un)Made to Measure: Sharing Mistakes

Introduction (DAJ)
It’s not a new idea – I heard it from Asimov – but the reality of research is not ‘Eureka!’, it’s ‘that’s funny…’. Something you see doesn’t quite make sense, so you look further and keep on digging, perhaps inventing a whole new technique to get to the bottom of things…What actually gets reported, however, is ‘Eureka!’. Things are changing, negative results do sometimes get reported. Since it’s February 29th, we thought we’d share some examples of things that didn’t quite work out as intended and as it’s Made2Measure, these are in the form of a ‘drabble’, exactly 100 words.
Reading nano-particles the Riot Act (DAJ)
My first inkling that dispersing nanoparticles in a polymer resin was not going entirely to plan was when the resin gelled, literally as I started to pour it. I hadn’t realised how much energy I had added to the system whilst trying to break up the agglomerated nanoparticles – so much, in fact, that I’d substantially reduced the pot life of my resin. This problem would take six months to solve. Whilst there was some literature, most people don’t work with room temperature curing resins. In the end, my solution (pre-dispersing in a solvent) was only really practicable for the laboratory.
Self recycling materials? (MJW)
My materials of the future remain just that. One of those materials is niobium disilicide. Years ago I was working on making composites of this material with a view to improving its property balance so it might be used as a structural material at elevated temperature. I had the idea of adding SiC. Surely it would improve something? Initial experimentation indicated poorer mechanical properties so I consigned the remaining ingot to my desk draw. Moving office one year later revealed a fine powder. I enabled a catastrophic oxidation mechanism to happen at room temperature. Any thoughts on alternative applications welcome.
Ultra-brittle metals (MJW)
I spent six months on placement with a well-known nuclear lab in 1988/89. I was working on some novel ferritic stainless steel. I remember my supervisor saying on day-one that sigma phase might be an issue to explore at a later date. I also remember nodding sagely with little idea about sigma phase. A week later I reassured the person responsible for hot rolling that wrapping the material in kaolin wool was fine. On receipt I cold rolled the material – imagine a milk bottle and a steamroller and you get the picture. Sigma phase and only week 2. The end.