Ida Westermann (right) and Helen Langeng. (Photo: Lena Knutli.)
Associate Professor Ida Westermann has a bun in the oven. Don’t worry. She knows how to bake. Even aluminium.
More baking in a moment. First a bit of maltreatment. In the picture, Westermann studies an aluminium sample with SINTEF engineer Helen Langeng. The sample has just reached the point of fracture in a fatigue test.
Ida Westermann is a metallurgist. Fatigue is part of her ball game. She looks for the connection between processing and deformation. In the process, she seeks to find out what happens to microstructures and properties. She wants to know what comes out in the other end.
For her PhD thesis, she “baked” aluminium bumpers. Strength will increase with time up to a certain level. After that it sinks. The same is valid for temperature. To be able to control the process, it is important to know what happens inside the material. The process is called artificial ageing. In an interview for SFI SIMLab’s annual report back in 2011, Westermann described it like this:
“If you want to bake the perfect loaf of bread, finding the right balance between time and temperature is crucial. The same goes for bumpers.”
In her thesis, she tried to find the mathematical relationship between microstructure and strength of aluminium based on experimental investigations.
Westermann fell in love with aluminium at the age of 18. Raised in the Danish village of Bredebro, she was invited to spend two weeks at the nearby plant of aluminium firm Hydro. After two weeks of learning about extruding and plastic forming, she was invited to visit NTNU in Trondheim and the Hydro plants in Sunndalsøra and Raufoss. By then she was hooked: her future was in metal.
After defending her PhD thesis in 2011, she has given birth to two children. Now a third bun is in the oven. The term is in February. Along the way, she worked three years for SINTEF, collaborating closely with CASA professors Odd Sture Hopperstad and Tore Børvik on several projects.
In 2014, Westermann returned to NTNU and her present position as Associate Professor with special emphasis on steel. Which brings us to the gold spitting.
How to spit gold
Confession: Ida Westermann doesn’t actually spit gold. Her PhD candidate Christian Oen Paulsen does the spitting. Still, she went along with him earlier this year to the University of Manchester, where he learnt the technique.
The professional term is gold sputtering. It is central in Oen Paulsen’s project on micromechanical modelling of steel. Westermann explains:
“Oen Paulsen carries out in situ scanning electron microscopy investigations. He uses digital image correlation in his quest for local deformations. Sputtering a layer of gold on the steel surface improves contrast and resolution one hundred times, so the gold particles allows for studies at a much smaller scale than would otherwise be the case. The challenge of the technique is to get the gold layer to form particles. This is unproblematic with stainless steel (and aluminium), where water vapour may be used. In other cases, this process will cause corrosion.”
In short: another example of how CASA and affiliated researchers look for better methods to improve the analysis of materials and structures. In this case the critical aspect is to understand deformation of steels; the different phases, how properties are influenced towards fracture and how to avoid it.
Westermann’s other PhD candidate, Siri Marthe Arbo, studies solid joining techniques between steel and aluminium. This is of particular interest to the automotive industry.
Ida Westermann doesn’t hesitate long when asked how others would describe her:
“Ambitious, I guess, and dedicated. A team player. I am also very much a family person,” she says.
This seems to include a very good adaption to Norwegian lifestyle. Alongside former co-PhD candidate, now husband Gaute Gruben, a SINTEF researcher working closely with CASA himself, she is well underway building the family’s cabin in the mountains. Counting from February next year, it will be the refuge of three children, two parents and two dogs; a bracco italiano and a dachshund.
In 2011, Ida Westermann hoped to continue her research as part of Trondheim’s academic environment. Her hope has been fulfilled.
“Why did you want to be a researcher?”
“Because of the freedom. I can use my creativity. Nobody decides my interests. I also very much enjoy the contact with the students.”
“And now? Where do you see yourself in ten years?”
“In the same environment, I hope, as a full professor.”