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Developing a Thick Skin

Developing a Thick Skin
By France Griggs Sloat

Little did he know it, but Henry Maliszewski was making history when he thought he was just making steel. As a research chemist for Airco Industrial Gases’ research and engineering labs in Murray Hill, N.J., Maliszewski was in charge of the inorganic and metal analytical laboratory. That meant the 1953 chemistry graduate was a lead scientist in the hunt to find the perfect mix of metals to make an eight-inch-thick stainless steel skin for the U.S. Navy’s developing fleet of nuclear submarines. The idea was to surround the sub with an impenetrable shell that would contain the nuclear core on the bottom of the ocean should the boat sink.

“We were trying to find the purest stainless steel we could find to use for the outer shell to protect it,” says Maliszewski, now retired and living in Belvidere, N.J. “We used pure chromium and pure iron, and we patented the product.”

Finding that perfect combination of metals was a challenge. His lab subjected every known commercial stainless steel to a corrosion test by suspending samples in an acid bath and weighing them over time. Six months of testing produced nothing suitable. So the lab upgraded its analytical techniques by developing a hydrogen analyzer and began testing new combinations of metals. In the end, the team settled on the purest combination it could make and sent it on to the Navy. To Maliszewski, it was just another project, though he admits it was exciting. But he still won’t reveal the actual steel formula they chose.

“I can’t tell you what we ended up with,” he says. “We did a lot of work for the Air Force and Navy. It was all hush-hush work.”

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