Transcript: Meet Winston Revie, Associate Editor of CORROSION journal
R. Winston Revie, CORROSION journal’s longest-serving Associate Editor, looks back over his 55-year career on this episode of the CORROSION journal Interview Series. Winston provides insight into changes he has seen over the years and gives advice for those in the corrosion industry.
Sammy Miles: Thanks for joining me today, Winston.
Winston Revie: It’s a pleasure. Glad to have the opportunity.
SM: Many of our listeners will recognize your name from several books you’ve coauthored and edited over the years, including Corrosion and Corrosion Control, and Introduction to Corrosion Science and Engineering, Uhlig’s Corrosion Handbook, as well as the Oil and Gas Pipelines: Integrity and Safety Handbook, which are household staples for many in the industry. But they might not know much about your story. To start with, could you tell me a little about your background? How did you first get into corrosion?
WR: Indeed, I’d be glad to discuss that. I was studying metallurgical engineering at McGill University in Montreal in the 1960s. About a year or so before I was due to graduate, I started to think about what I wanted to do after graduation. I decided I was going to do some kind of post-graduate work and probably get a post-graduate degree, a master’s or a Ph.D., or maybe both. At that time, I found that there were a few articles coming out in journals about the use of metals in the human body, like for surgical implants.
Specifically, I remember an interesting article in the Journal of Metals in 1964 by Ludwigson, who at that time was at the U. S. Steel Applied Research Lab in Monroeville, Pa. His article in the Journal of Metals was about the use of prosthetic metals in the human body. I thought, “Man, this sounds like interesting work.” Clearly, there was research going on in this area, so I wrote to Ludwigson and asked him about where a person could study this kind of stuff. If you wanted to do post-graduate studies in this area after getting a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering, where might one go? He wrote back to me. He gave me a list of I think three or four universities where this type of work was done. One of them was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. I wrote to RPI in Troy, and ended up going down and meeting with Professor Norbert Greene. His wife also worked in the lab there.
I spent a day at RPI in Troy. They took me to lunch, and at the lunch, Professor Greene asked me the question. He said, “If you wanted to work in surgical implants at RPI, that means working in corrosion. Are you interested in this, working in corrosion?” I said, “Absolutely. It sounds like a great area. It sounds exciting, in fact, studying corrosion inside people.” It was actually inside animals. We weren’t actually working on people Anyway, that’s how I got into corrosion. From then on, I studied corrosion. Went down to RPI and I worked on fascinating work with the Albany Medical Center, a collaborative program between RPI and the Albany Medical Center with the orthopedic surgery department at Albany. Did this work on measuring corrosion rates in dogs and rabbits using some recently developed electrochemical techniques. That’s how I got into the area, and it was really an exciting bit of work.
I could go on and say the day I started at RPI, in August I think it was of 1966, there was another student who also started that day. He came from MIT. He had done a master’s at MIT and was coming to RPI. After discussion with him, I thought, “Gee, MIT sounds interesting. Maybe I should check into it.” So I did. I went down to Cambridge, Mass., and met Herb Uhlig. I saw the lab there, and Herb encouraged me to apply, so I did. So after finishing my master’s at RPI, I went down to MIT and started on a Ph.D. program there, which I completed working on fundamental aspects of corrosion, largely of copper when stress is applied, and the effects on strength.
Toward the end of my stay at MIT, I started wondering, “What am I going to do once I’ve got the Ph.D.?” I had an idea that I’d like to do something on some fundamental study on corrosion. One of the well-known electrochemists at that time was John Bockris. Herb Uhlig mentioned to me, when I discussed this with him, he said, “Bockris is moving to Australia soon. I think he’s going in a few months’ time.” I thought, “Well, that’s the end of that.” But after thinking about it for a while, I thought, “He’s going to Australia. That might be interesting. A trip to Australia and working in Australia sounds exciting.” So I wrote to Professor Bockris at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and he asked me to come down and have an interview there. So I did. I went down to Philadelphia. He had pictures of the Flinders campus around his office. It looked like a very nice place. Flinders, of course, was on the outskirts of Adelaide in South Australia. It sounded like a wonderful climate there. He was going to do some research. I told him, “I’m interested. Let’s pursue this one.” Once he got to Australia, he wrote back to me, offering me the job. To make a long story short, off I went to Australia with my Ph.D. from MIT, and spent a couple of years at Flinders.
Flinders University of South Australia was a new university at that time. Everything was brand new. New equipment and new everything. It was very nice there. After a couple of years there, I thought, “Once I finish this post-doctoral here, what am I going to do now?” There was a lot of interest at that time in solar energy. The Australian National University in Canberra had a project that was starting up on solar energy. I thought, “Maybe this would be interesting to do. Solar energy, background in corrosion, electrochemistry. Gee, this sounds exciting.” So I did have an interview there, and they offered me the job.
Then, I was in Canberra. That was great. Working on solar energy. It was a program that would use high-grade thermal energy that would operate a boiler system to produce electricity. It was more work that was sort of ahead of its time. In the ‘70, in the U.S. then, there was the oil crisis, and there was a lot of interest in solar energy. Over the decades, the interest waned a bit until just the present, fairly recent times, when solar energy has really come into its own.
While I was down at ANU, I decided I was going to come back to Canada and eventually did come back. I worked for a few months at HSA Reactors in Toronto, a company of Sankar Das Gupta, which is still in business actually under a different name, Electrovaya. There was a position in the federal government at National Resources Canada — or Energy, Mines, and Resources in those days. I ended up coming to Ottawa and spending 33 years working mainly on oil and gas pipelines, which had its own excitement over all those years.
That’s a little bit of history. I retired in 2011, 10 years ago, and I’m still working on corrosion, editing books and keeping books up to date and doing some consulting work.
SM: You’ve mentioned a few different industries here, between implants and solar and oil & gas. How have those fields changed over the years? For example, I know you mentioned with solar it was groundbreaking, it was new in the ‘60s and ‘70s. How is that different from the research being done today?
WR: Today, research is very focused on applications. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, in that era, there was still a lot of very good fundamental research being done. In corrosion, the fundamental research has actually been helped by the development of very advanced systems for microstructural characterization. Microscopes and different techniques for characterizing microstructures. The corrosion area has become, I’d say, a little bit more sophisticated in terms of the equipment requirements today. The industries themselves sort of come and go. Back in the ‘60s, there was a certain amount of interest in surgical implants and materials used in medicine. LIFE Magazine, in the 1960s, had a big article, and the cover I think was devoted to — it showed a model of a person with all these different implants in it.
Today, that type of research has really expanded. Today, most metallurgy and materials science departments have somebody studying biomaterials. There is a major international conference that’s held every few years on biomaterials. Solar energy was exciting back in the ‘70s, a lot of interest in it, but then oil — it didn’t disappear, we didn’t run out of oil, and the price of oil came down a lot. It’s just recently that the environmental movement has taken over and the price of oil is fairly low at the present time. But because of the climate change considerations, the renewables are where there’s a lot of action today.
SM: It’s interesting to see how these have changed over time. I’m assuming — for example, with some of the biomaterials, even the alloys, not just the technologies in terms of the microscopes and things like that that have changed over the years, the actual materials we’re using, such as magnesium and different things — how we’re leveraging those and the corrosion properties therein. That’s been changing as well.
WR: Absolutely. There’s some very interesting research that’s going on now on surgical implants that will dissolve. Rather than having a stainless steel or a titanium implant, say to fix up a broken bone, and then having to remove that implant once the bone is all healed, you might be able to have a type of magnesium alloy implant that would last as long as it’s required to last, and in time it would just dissolve. There’s quite a bit of research going on in that area. Also in all kinds of areas where there’s a demand because people are living to an older age now. Like for repairing hernias, polypropylene mesh is frequently used. That stays in a person forever, normally. But the materials are evolving. I mean, there’s artificial skin that I think is being studied now to help burn victims. Materials research in medicine is actually quite important today.
SM: The largest portion of your career you’ve spent working on oil & gas and pipelines. Can you elaborate a little more about how the industry’s changed during the decades that you spent working on that?
WR: Indeed. The oil & gas industry, specifically the pipelines, they’re made of steel. Pipelines are made of steel. These high-strength, low-alloy steels. The developments in metallurgy have made it possible for the pipelines to operate at higher pressures and use less steel. There has been a great interest in using higher and higher strength steels because, if the steel is higher strength, you can use a higher pressure. With higher pressure, you get more natural gas that you can deliver in unit per unit time. If you have a high-strength steel, you use less steel because it’s stronger. You have a higher pressure in the pipe. And because there’s less steel, the transportation costs off to remote sites where the pipeline has to be assembled is less. There’s less materials to weld, so you save in all these different ways. There’s also some downside because higher-strength steels are less forgiving in terms of defects. The critical defect size for the higher-strength steels is smaller than for lower-strength steels. There’s a quality control and the whole issue about monitoring the corrosion of these steels or inspecting the steel for corrosion and defects.
Over the years, inline inspection is one of the major areas that’s been developed so that pipelines can be inspected thoroughly and with confidence that defects are going to be picked up during the inspection. So there’s inspection, which is done every few years, and then there’s monitoring, which is done continuously, all the time. Those two areas have been developed.
The other thing that’s affected the pipeline industry is the public awareness of pipelines. There were a couple of major failures which caused the industry to be very much in the public knowledge. The combination of the background of a couple of unfortunate failures plus the tendency of the public to question the use of fossil fuels that produce CO2 and other greenhouse gases has had a big influence on the oil & gas industry.
SM: Right, which makes sense and goes back to that emphasis on all the renewables that we’re seeing in a resurgence lately.
WR: Absolutely. There’s hydroelectric power, and there’s solar, there’s wind, there’s geothermal, and if you can harness all of those, you’ve really got quite an array of options for energy.
SM: Right. I’m going to pivot real quick, because I want to make sure to take a moment to share some of the contributions with our listeners that you’ve had in the field. You’ve been recognized as being instrumental for initiatives such as being a founding trustee of the Canadian National Capitol Section of NACE International, a founding president of the NACE Foundation of Canada, a founder of the Banff Pipeline Workshop (BPW), just for a few of them. I know with the biennial BPW conference that you started in ‘93, it brings together industry personnel, regulators, service providers, researchers, and other stakeholders to identify industry issues and provides a platform to develop and deploy solutions — which is of utmost importance, as you were mentioning through some of your comments. We need to bring people together and discuss different things and how to make it better.
For these contributions and others, you’ve been honored as a Fellow in a number of organizations, such as NACE, ASM International, and the Electrochemical Society. With that said, what do you feel is your greatest contribution to the field?
WR: That’s really for others to judge from their own perspective. Some people might think that work I did on the surgical implants back in the ‘60s was new and different from anything else. They might think that was the greatest contribution. But others who come to the pipeline workshops in Banff, the last workshops have had between 800 and 1,000 people in attendance. Some people might think, maybe developing those workshops or establishing the workshops was the greatest contribution. Different people might have their own view on the relative merits of separate contributions.
We did indeed set up the Canadian National Capitol Section of NACE International in the 1990s. That was certainly — it was a really interesting thing to do because it brought together all the people in the corrosion area who were working in the Ottawa area and surrounding vicinity. Until that time, we had the different corrosion labs in Ottawa, but we didn’t have a venue for meeting regularly. Establishing a section here was a great advance because it served as a venue for all of the “corrosionists” in the area to get together. We’ve had some very interesting conferences here since we set up the section.
SM: Hopefully they continue as we move into a virtual platform in the short term, until we can get back to having in-person meetings.
WR: That’s right. I hope we can start having them soon. In Canada, of course, we have our own schedule for vaccinations. I don’t think the schedule’s been totally worked out. I heard President Biden talking last night — he had a public address. He was optimistic.
SM: We’ll get there.
WR: No doubt.
SM: What advice do you have to the industry?
WR: For corrosion, there are four things. First of all, what we learned in the ‘60s when I started studying corrosion at McGill, was design corrosion out. Make the best design that’s possible so that corrosion won’t have the opportunity to work its degrading effects. So design it out. A combination of materials design, process design, cathodic protection, inhibitors, and coatings. All design.
The second thing is: Inspect for corrosion as frequently as necessary. Maybe develop a model for the development of corrosion so that you may be able to predict the crack growth rate or defect growth rates. Decide on what the interval needs to be between inspections so that you don’t reach the critical defect size that leads to failure fairly quickly. Inspect and have a model for the corrosion development so that you can predict the time required between inspections.
Then, beyond inspection, there’s monitoring. That’s continuous monitoring. For pipelines, they’ll have aircraft flying over the pipeline relatively frequently to monitor any gas that’s being emitted from a natural gas pipeline or to look at the change in snow cover on the ground. If you can see that the snow is melting, maybe there’s something coming from the pipeline. That’s the third thing: Monitor.
The last one is: Engage a corrosion specialist to review the plans and the procedures for construction, operation, and maintenance and to be able to assess the data from the inspection and monitoring during operation. Three things: Design, inspect, monitor, and engage a corrosion specialist who can add expertise.
SM: Wonderful. On a more personal note, what advice do you have for people to excel at their jobs in the corrosion field?
WR: Good question. As a person settles into a job, he or she would, over a period of time, personalize a job to their own unique expertise. Corrosion is a multi-disciplinary area. It involves metallurgy, it involves chemistry, and different branches of chemistry. There’s organic chemistry for inhibitors, typically. Also there’s physics involved. Depending on a person’s background, they’re going to have their own unique contributions to the area. What I think is that it’s what you do over and above the minimum that’s required in the job description. The job description specifies the things you do.
When I established the Banff Pipeline Workshops, there was nothing in my job description to say I was supposed to do this, but it looked like something that needed to be done. It worked out that it has been very popular in terms of attendance. My suggestion is to go above and beyond what’s in the job description and personalize the job to your own unique capabilities. For the manager who’s trying to assemble a team in corrosion, my suggestion would be to — because corrosion is so multi-disciplinary — get people with backgrounds in the different areas. You could have somebody with a chemical background, a metallurgical background, and maybe a physics background, and maybe different sub-backgrounds, so that all the different areas are covered off, or most of them anyway, on your team. Rather than just having a group all with a chemical background or all with a metallurgical background, because of the distinctiveness of corrosion as such a multi-disciplinary subject.
SM: I think that’s great advice. I think that would help managers, and I think that helps individuals in the field try to make the most out of their career and enjoy it to the fullest and be the most successful at what they do.
WR: Be the most successful at what they do. And you know, just to put in a positive word about corrosion as a career to get into, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who works in the corrosion area who wasn’t really satisfied with his job or satisfied with the work he was doing. My suggestion to people is that they need to like the work that they do. From what I’ve seen in corrosion is that people do. People in the area seem to be happy with what they do in corrosion. Whether they’re doing the failure analysis or whether they’re designing things to prevent failures. I think that corrosion does offer a rewarding career that people in the field tend to appreciate.
SM: That’s fantastic. We’re getting toward the end of our time. I want to ask: If any of our listeners want to get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to reach you?
WR: Write me an email: email@example.com.
SM: Perfect. Before we sign off, I’m going to borrow a feature from the CoatingsPro Interview Series podcast. CoatingsPro is one of our sister publications here at AMPP, and they’ve launched rapid-fire questions which provide our listeners with an opportunity to get to know our guests a little better. With that, who is you’re hero or mentor?
WR: I would say that the one I appreciated the most was Herb Uhlig, actually. He and I did a lot of work together after I completed my Ph.D. I learned about his meticulous nature and how he proofread the publications. Proofread the book, actually, by reading it aloud. I spent many hours with Professor Herb Uhlig at the International Conference on Corrosion Fatigue in Storrs, Conn. I think it was in 1971. We read the book aloud. He had the final proofs in his hand, and we took turns reading aloud. He went through all the proofs and picked out the typographical errors and made final corrections in the proofs. This was certainly a very thorough way of going about things and a way that I hadn’t seen before. It’s informed my own habits, I guess. I tend to be a bit meticulous in the editing process and checking things to make sure they’re right.
A few years after I had finished my Ph.D. with Herb Uhlig, I was in the office of another scientist as he received a call. He received a telephone call from an editor who was asking about where the final proofs were and the corrections. This particular scientist just flipped through the pages — with the editor on the phone, flipped through the pages. He said, “Right, looks good to me. Go ahead.” No corrections.
SM: Big difference between those two styles.
SM: Excellent. The second question I’m going to ask is, What is your biggest pet peeve?
WR: Needless bureaucracy and paperwork. Of course, we’re getting away from paperwork to a certain extent now since a lot of the bureaucratic stuff is done online. That helps a bit. But still, I think we could cut down on the bureaucracy a bit and just get on with the actual work and the research.
SM: I think most of us will agree with that one. With that, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today.
WR: It was a pleasure.