The metallurgist and inventor of a lead-free solder talks about what drives him to keep up with the latest research
Edited by Victoria Burt
Name: Iver E. Anderson
Title: Senior Metallurgist
Organization: Ames Laboratory (USDOE), Iowa State University
Location: Ames, Iowa
Hobbies: Running, biking, tennis, skiing (Alpine & Nordic), trying to plant grass in my shady yard.
What does your typical workday look like?
“I wake up early and slip into my favorite chair at home to write or review documents that require the most concentration,” he says. “After several hours I move to my office to start meetings with staff and students, to communicate by phone and e-mail to colleagues, and to perform the administrative parts of my job. At the end of my day, I like to finish the last of my communications and to meet casually with my students to see what they have encountered in their work.”
What’s been your biggest technical challenge so far?
“That relates to developing a gas-atomization system for producing fine, spherical powders of titanium and titanium alloys. If we succeed and push through to commercialization, this capability could “rock the world” of metal injection molding and biomedical implants and surgical tools,” he says.
Anderson had a youthful background that put him on the road to an engineering career. “My dad was a mechanical-engineering professor,” he says. “He took the time to work with me as a teacher and colleague on projects like designing and building Soapbox Derby cars. Those experiences taught me many of the basic engineering considerations. Trying to “outdesign” my Dad really sowed the seeds of my love for developing engineering solutions to important problems in our world.”
Anderson figures the traits and habits developed as a youngster have let him excel in engineering. “I am always looking for a better way to solve an old problem or a new problem that someone says is impossible to solve,” he explains. “I troll the broad stream of scientific advances and roadblocks across many disciplines and look for the best ones to target. I also make it my business to know the top researchers in many fields so I am the first to know about state of the art technology.”
What part of your job do you like most?
“I really like the special inventive moments that pop up at quiet times or in intense discussions with students or colleagues in many places. Luckily, we have been able to turn many of these into new project ideas and patents.”
What do you least like to do?
“Like many of my peers, administrative paperwork and budget tracking is my least favorite thing. Thankfully, my lab is blessed with several key staff members that help relieve this burden.”
If a young person approached you for career advice about pursuing engineering, what would you tell them?
“Developing the technology base to sustain our future is the stuff of engineering and science and there is no greater challenge or opportunity for making the world a better place.”
Iver E. Anderson has spent 26 years in engineering, and says his best career decision was taking the advice of colleague Fred Yost from Sandia Labs. That advice: To work together on developing a lead-free solder. The tin-silver-copper solder alloy has been widely adopted by the electronics industry to remove harmful lead from the environment. The patent has been licensed by more than 60 companies in the U.S. and around the world, and Anderson says he is “enjoying the fruits” of his success. Anderson’s team of direct project collaborators consists of four Ames Lab colleagues and four to six Ames Lab staff members, along with five graduate students and four to six undergraduate assistants. The team works on research covering a broad range of materials science and engineering. They are doing fundamental work on the solidification and devitrification of aluminum-based glass-forming alloys and are trying to improve lead-free solder alloys to enhance reliability and versatility. Their industrial work includes a simplified process they invented for producing iron alloys for extremely high-temperatures and high-radiation environments. Other projects look at improved rare-earth permanent magnet alloy design, processing on a wear-resistant surface plating for a hydraulic pump application, and a side project involving titanium powder production that could lead to a spin-off company.