Visit Kypros-Net a new WEB source on CyprusA Brief History of Martensites
A Brief History of Martensites
Largely taken from Sivan Kartha, ``Disorder--Driven Pretransitional
Tweed Microstructures in Martensitic Transformations'', Ph.D. Thesis,
Cornell University 1993, chapter 1.
Photographs and other information from two articles in G. B. Olson and
W. S. Owen, "Martensite", ASM International, 1992: "A History of
Some Thoughts on the Early Hardening of Iron" by R. Maddin, and
"A History of Martensite: Early Ideas on the Structure of Steel", by
C. S. Smith.
The word "martensitic" is not familar, except among metallurgists. Its
history is a fascinating story, worth telling briefly.
One of the great periods of change in civilization occurred when steel
replaced bronze. Yet, it was entirely unknown what gave steel its
valuable properties, and for centuries the techniques for making high
quality steel were closely held, almost alchemical, secrets. Clearly,
iron was its major component, but a myriad of other minor additions were
found empirically, and even more mysterious treatments were evolved for
cooling the red hot object to room temperature - unlikely manufacturing
processes such as adding mixtures of blood, and aging times which
depended on the phase of the moon, for example.
Maddin tells us that iron replaced bronze for general use during the
300 year period after about 1200 B.C. Iron was known before this time,
but Maddin suggests that it was the discovery of how to make steel that
led to the shift. Iron isn't a very useful material: steel (iron with
martensitic domains and hardened with carbon or other elements) is an
immense improvement over bronze.
Maddin's earliest example of martensite comes from an excavation in 1976.
He says the analysis shows a pretty sophisticated manipulation of iron
Miner's pick from Mt. Adir in northern Galilee (13th to 12th century
after electrolytic cleaning. Arrow indicates flake shown in the next
A dig in 1971 found a lot of knives, which seems to indicate that the
metallurgists of ancient Cyprus had found a consistant method of
"carburizing and quenching".
Micrograph of flake from the pick, showing "lightly tempered martensitic
structure." P. Astrom, R. Maddin, J. D. Muhly, and T. Stech,
Opuscula Atheniensia XVI, 27 (1986);
D. Davis, R. Maddin, J. D. Muhly, and T. Stech, JNES
44, 41 (1985).
11th century B.C. knife excavated from a tomb in Idalion, Cyprus.
The technique of quenching the iron into cold water is mentioned in
this gruesome description in Homer's Odyssey, describing
the blinding of the giant Cyclops (who had imprisoned Odysseus and
his men in a cave). After getting Cyclops drunk, they heat an olive
stake and plunge it into his one eye:
A picture of the core of the knife: the
picture shows a 200 micro
I'm guessing the stiated lines are martensitic twins.
E. Thollander, Opuscula Atheniensia 10 15
"The blast and scorch of the burning ball singed all his eyebrows and
and the fire made the roots of his eye crackle. As when a man who works
as a blacksmith plunges a screaming great axe blade or plane into cold
water, treating it for temper, since this is the way steel is made
strong, even so Cyclops' eye sizzles about the beam of the olive."
(Translation after Richard Lattimore.)
(Apparently the translation "treating it for temper" is a translator's
anachronism representing our modern viewpoint.)
In the 19th century there were great advances in chemical analysis, and
metallurgists had faith that the reasons why steels were different would
soon be known through determination of differences in chemical
composition. However, these hopes were soon dashed, as it was often
found that various steel alloys with very similar compositions could
have vastly dissimilar mechanical properties. Chemistry not having
provided the answer to the steel puzzle, the answer was to come
evenually from a distinctly different area of science - optics.
There were great strides in optics over the same period, particularly in
Germany, and in c. 1890, a gifted German microscopist Adolf
Martens examined the microstructure, and found, not visible to the naked
eye, many varieties of patterns at the micron scale. In particular, hard
steels were found to have banded regions of differently oriented,
fascinating microcrystalline phases, whereas inferior steels had little
coherent patterning. The characteristic patterned regions became known
as "martensite, after their
The realization that the microscopic patterning might be just as
important as compostion in determining a material's properties was a
watershed in metallurgy; and a whole new subfield, "metallography" was
born. Since that time hundreds of materials with martensitic morphology
have been discovered and studied.
Martensite "needles" in a matrix of austenite in a high carbon steel.
Magnified 1000 times. Photo take by Osmund in 1901.
To learn more about Martensites just take a
look at the science WWW page
of LASSP (The Labaratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics) at cornell
University. The adress is:
This page is part of the LASSP WWW page
prepared by Jon Sethna, firstname.lastname@example.org
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