Crucible Steel from India: A Major Metallurgical Accomplishment of Antiquity

Dhwani presents a talk and demonstration by Prof. S. Ranganathan, IISc,  at 5pm on Thursday, 13th April at Kanada Auditorium, on wootz steel , a high-carbon steel alloy that was developed in (South) India several centuries before the common era. In these times when misinformed claims about the scientific and technological achievements in ancient India abound, it is essential that we know about the actual achievements of our past.

Prof. Ranganathan is a renowned expert in the field of metallurgy, and has (literally) written the book on wootz steel. He is eminently suited to enlighten us about this technological achievement from the subcontinent. Prof. Ranganathan has promised to bring sample specimens, including knives and swords, for us to see. An abstract from him follows.

India is celebrated for many metallurgical accomplishments in antiquity. These include lost wax casting of bronzes in Harappa, the extraction of zinc, the rustless iron pillar and the wootz steel. Among them the most spectacular achievement is the legendary wootz steel which was used to fashion the Damascus blades. This advanced material of the ancient world had a historical dominance for over two millennia and a geographic sway over three continents. The development of the materials paradigm arose from a quest to understand its superior properties by Western scientists. Modern materials owe a lot to this insight.

The talk will emphasise the development of the crucible method for making molten steel and the processing of the brittle ultra high carbon steels into ductile materials. As part of our research the celebrated Konasamudram in Telangana will be presented. Merchants from Persia travelled to buy wootz. Our current research is aimed at experimental reproduction of wootz steel and its characterization using modern techniques such as EBSD and high resolution microscopy.

About the speaker:

Srinivasa Ranganathan is NASI Platinum Jubilee Fellow, Homi Bhabha Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. His interests cover physical metallurgy, history of science and materials heritage. He has coauthored a much acclaimed book on India’s Legendary Wootz Steel: An advanced material of the ancient world. The DST Programme on Indian Digital Heritage – Hampi benefitted from his guidance. He taught the inaugural  course on Science and Civilization in India to IISc Undergraduates in August 2011 and a course on Materials Heritage and Conservation at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan in 2012. His current research interests are High Entropy Alloys. The first journal publication on Alloyed Pleasures- Multimetallic Cocktails by him was published in Current Science in 2003 and led to the first book in 2014 on High Entropy Alloys coauthored by him He is a Fellow of four Indian Academies of Science and Engineering and the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). The Indian Institute of Metals, the Electron Microscope Society of India and the Indian National Academy of Engineering have conferred on him Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.


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