Historical Articles

The Halfway Mark (An Editorial)

Gustaf Soderberg

January, 1950

AS WE ENTER the second half of the twentieth century many editorials will be written about the changes that have been wrought during its first half and that may be expected during its second. One could easily write such an editorial about the plating industry. It seems more appropriate, however, to deal with a more basic aspect of the present situation.

The nineteenth century has been characterized by its faith in progress. Our experiences during this century with its two World Wars and worldw4de revolutionary movements have made most of us lose faith in the inevitability of progress. We are learning that progress does not depend on inanimate forces and hence does not come about automatically. Instead it depends on people; and people do with equal facility act for good and evil, for progress and regression.

In a more restricted sense and aside from the great moral problems that confront the world, progress in any field depends on the availability of individuals with ability to see facts as they really are, to think clearly, and to act energetically on the evidence. This requires education of a high order.

The question arises, "What is the plating industry doing to attract and to educate the younger generation and to furnish it with greater possibilities within the plating field"?

One should acknowledge at once that more facilities are now available for education at the shop level than ever before and that the quality of plating books and journals has risen. That is all to the good, but only as far as utilization of existing knowledge is concerned. When we look at higher levels of education, the position of the industry is actually worse than ten or twenty years ago, with fewer schools providing courses designed especially for electroplaters. The reasons are many: among them divorcement of capable teachers from active teaching and the limited value of traditional electrochemistry in providing fresh avenues of approach to practical problems. Thus present-day plating research with few exceptions is still conducted largely on a cut-and-try basis.

It is discouraging to compare electroplating research with research in, for example, plastics or petroleum chemistry in which theory and practice are much more closely allied. The fact is that a sound theoretical basis for electroplating is almost completely lacking. As a result progress in plating is slow and halting when contrasted to that in many other fields.

A new approach to the whole problem of educating plating researchers seems indicated. The new department certainly should be on the postgraduate level and provide courses in electrochemistry, metallurgy, physics, and mathematics on the highest plane, all slanted to the specific needs of electroplating. It would require a highly competent teaching staff in close contact with the industry and accept only highly qualified students. Besides adequate staff salaries it should have for distribution a substantial number of fellowships for fundamental research. One can be certain that students so trained would have no difficulty in finding remunerative employment, in their chosen field.

One or more of our higher institutions of learning in considering in what direction it can best expand to serve industry should give serious thought to the needs of the plating industry. Undoubtedly many have the resources, facilities and staff to set up an efficient department. The American Electroplaters Society could well he instrumental in encouraging this development.

Thus while we hope and pray for a better continuation than beginning of this century, we should not neglect to act on the fundamental plane of education. What better time to begin than now, at the halfway mark?



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