Tag Archives: zirconium

Episode 102 — Admiral Rickover

rickoverMetallurgical engineer Paul Cantonwine shares insights into the life and career of Admiral H. G. Rickover in this biographical episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Adam has no interest in being associated with solar FREAKIN’ roadways. (While a cool concept, not everyone believes solar roadways are feasible.)
  • Our guest for this episode is materials engineer Dr. Paul Cantonwine, who recently published “The Never-Ending Challenge of Engineering: Admiral H.G. Rickover in His Own Words.”
  • As an undergraduate student, Paul figured that since everything was made of materials, he could ensure job security by choosing Materials Engineering as his field of study.
  • Our guest began his engineering career at the Bettis Atomic Power Labratory, working with zirconium alloys.
  • Neutron cross section refers to the likelihood that, within a given target material, an incident neutron and a target nucleus interact with one another.
  • Brian notes that the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class submarines, and soon-to-be-introduced Ford-class aircraft carriers, are nuclear-powered.
  • Our guest finds that keeping the customer in mind helps when making difficult technical decisions.
  • Paul found the Rickover biography by Theodore Rockwell to provide great insight into the field of engineering; the book is titled “The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference.”
  • Admiral Rickover was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in January 1954.
  • Spending 63 years in the U.S. Navy, the first half of Admiral Rickover’s career was fairly ordinary, notes our guest.
  • Although Rickover was an electrical engineer by training, there seems no particular reason he was chosen to attend a nuclear power training course being held at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Eastern Tennessee.
  • Rickover foresaw the benefits of a nuclear-powered submarine, even when others doubted its technical feasibility.
  • Although not a stellar student, Rickover was driven by ambition, an incredible work ethic, and a lifelong love of learning.
  • Paul has written that if Admiral Rickover had a mantra to shape a professional culture, it would have been, “I am personally responsible.”
  • Every ensign charged with running a nuclear power plant had to interview with Admiral Rickover; none forgot the experience.
  • Brian compares Rickover’s interviewing techniques to the job interview scene in the 1997 movie Men in Black.
  • One reason for Rickover’s obsession with personnel selection was concern for possible nuclear accidents, a fate which befell the U.S. Army’s Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One in 1961.
  • To test components for shock resistance, Admiral Rickover would throw equipment against a radiator in his office.
  • There was no readily available source for pure zirconium when Rickover started developing nuclear components, so he had to develop his own refining plant.
  • Admiral Rickover was a man of action, and Paul suggests that today’s engineers can likewise have a significant impact on society if they strive to develop beneficial technologies.
  • Our guest can be reached via email: pecantonwine -=+ at +=- gmail dot com

Thanks to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for use of the photo titled “Admiral Hyman Rickover.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.