Fracture & Society

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Fracture & Society

D.M.R. Taplin May, 1977


As Cottrell pointed out in his opening address at ICF2, everyone is concerned, from a very early age, with why things break. Children's toys break, we break our bones, the engines of our motor cars and washing machines fracture - but more importantly, advanced large-scale structures can fracture - pipelines, bridges, skyscrapers, nuclear reactors, ships and aircraft - even the very earth itself fractures in earthquakes. The understanding and alleviation of all such fractures are the special concern of the scientists and engineers who gather together every four years at each International Conference on Fracture. The inspiration of these conferences has been Professor Takeo Yokobori, Founder-President of ICF. It is the principal purpose of ICF to regularly bring together, from every corner of the world, the major workers in all aspects of fracture for a re-assessment of the advances made and to provide a basis for sound and relevant scientific and engineering work in the future. This purpose will surely be achieved at 1CF4. But, in Canada, in preparing for 1CF4, we were especially conscious of the larger purpose of placing all this research in the full context of society as a whole. As the complexity of our technological systems increases, so do the possible catastrophic consequences of failure. By way of emphasis, one may cite the Presidential Campaign of 1976 in the United States where the consequences of fractures in nuclear reactors, and hence their safety, played a. significant role. The safety of many of our energy systems including reactors, offshore structures, super-tankers, LNG ships, pipelines, is now of very wide social concern and is discussed regularly and thoroughly in the ordinary press. Accordingly, it is both an obligation and extremely prudent that we, at this conference, address ourselves to our responsibilities to the safety of the technological world at large.
Thus, the dominant themes of ICF4 are the applied aspects of fracture and especially the application to large-scale engineering structures. At the same time, the broad purpose of bringing together workers in every aspect of fracture has not been forgotten. But, to ensure that the social implications of our work can be fully appreciated and discussed, two Plenary Panel Discussions have been organized under the general heading Fracture and Society. The first of these focusses upon Educational issues whilst the second is concerned with the broad Socio-Political context itself. Very early in the organizing of ICF4 (1973), Sir Alan Cottrell was approached for his views on the most useful orientation for ICF4. It will be remembered that Sir Alan has very special qualifications for being so consulted. He is amongst the handful of major contributors to our understanding of fracture processes in solids. His background includes experience in Chairs at two major English Universities and in the nuclear industry and the full accolade of the world scientific community for his own research and his many books. But, for many years, in more recent times, he has been privy to the Corridors of Socio-Political Power through his appointment as Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government. In this role, he became a household name in Britain and led a team to Canada to investigate the CANDU reactor system. He became well known in several parts of the world for lectures on Science and Society and for his broad consciousness and intellectual grasp of the issues confronting the development of technologically advanced nations. More recently still, he has begun another career as Master of Jesus College at Cambridge and as a rather youthful Elder Statesman. Thus, there could surely be no one better qualified to address ICF4 on the topic chosen for these panel discussions - Fracture and Society - in 1976, Sir Alan was approached accordingly. Unfortunately for ICF4 (but fortunately for his University) he had just, been elected Vice-Chancellor and convocation precluded his absence from Cambridge. After various discussions about possible alternates, it was realized that the purpose would be best served through a published interview with Sir Alan - somewhat in the style of some American and British magazines. Such an interview would be structured around prepared questions (taken on notice) on the topic Fracture and Society and would be probing and wide-ranging so as to provide the best possible foundation for discussion in the ICF4 Panels - and elsewhere.
Through the good offices of Dr B. Ralph, a Fellow of Jesus, and Dr. J. F. Knott, I was able to arrange, at short notice in December 1976, a meeting in which the proposition could be put forward in detail. I was advised to approach the proposition rather slowly and not until, perhaps, the third course of our dinner in Hall. Somewhat untowardly, 1 discarded this advice and before we had finished our soup, Sir Alan had gladly accepted the proposition and asked me to forward to him the questions, so that, he could look them over prior to the recording session. I also arranged to send him copies of a selection of the Plenary and Workshop papers for his scrutiny and we were able to sketch over some of the questions and the overall scope of the interview. y
The details of the actual interview were as follows. Through discussions with various scientists, amongst whom figured Tetelman, Eshelby, Embury, Knott, Bilby, Smith, Averbach, Ralph, a list of questions was compiled and forwarded to Sir Alan during January 1977. The interview took place over a period of two hours on February 16, 1977 in the Master's Lodge at Jesus. Dr Brian Ralph and Dr John Knott, both former research students of Sir Alan, conducted the actual recording session on behalf of ICF4. The interview was tape-recorded and the printed transcript that follows has been subjected only to minor editorial changes.
On behalf of all the participants of ICF4, I wish to record here our gratitude and appreciation to Sir Alan for the task lie undertook. I am sure it will be judged to be of very considerable substance, value and interest, it now only requires that in the Panel Discussions we apply ourselves equally to the task which we address. Fracture researchers are a relatively cohesive and harmonious group. It should be possible, thereby, to arrive at some sound and relevant conclusions in what has become, increasingly (Newsweek, May 9, 1977) not only a model and structure sensitive subject but also politically and socially sensitive.