September 13, 2008

U.Va. Professor Plays Key Role / He Chose the Metal Key to Design of the Pentagon Memorial

By S

Sometimes it's the details that are most important. The architects of the Pentagon Memorial turned to Rob Kelly, a professor of materials science in the engineering school at the University of Virginia, to find the perfect metal to build the memorial commemorating that horrible day.

The memorial is adjacent to where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 184 people, including 59 passengers. Each person is memorialized with an inscribed cantilevered bench made of stainless steel.

Kelly was asked to find the best stainless steel to use. "It may be the most significant thing I've done in my professional career," said Kelly, 46, who has taught at U.Va. for 18 years. "It was one of those opportunities that stumbled onto me."

He first convinced the architects to change their original plans to make the benches out of aluminum and to choose stainless steel. "But that's like saying we'll use a fabric. There are huge varieties."

The stainless steel needed would have to be highly resistant to corrosion and shine brightly for at least 100 years. "They wanted the monument to be highly reflective and stay that way for a long time," Kelly said.

The steel also would have to be relatively inexpensive, since private money was being used to build the memorial. The metal would have to be castable, easily welded, strong enough to sit on it, and soft enough to inscribe names on it.

Kelly chose a stainless steel that had just a bit of molybdenum and nitrogen added, which would keep corrosion to a minimum.

The memorial is designed to invite personal interpretation, the architects have said. "They wanted to keep the interpretation open so people can see different things," Kelly said.

The stainless-steel memorial units are placed along "age" lines that parallel the flight path of Flight 77. Each memorial unit - which look like wide, backless benches - mark a birth year ranging from that for victim Dana Falkenberg, who was 3, to John D. Yamnicky, who died at 71.

The directional orientation of the benches - which rise from the ground and cantilever over running water that will glow with light at night - indicate whether the victim was aboard Flight 77 or in the Pentagon when he or she died. Each person's name is engraved at the end of the benches.

Kelly refused payment for his consultation. "This is not something I would do for money."

He also plans to be at the dedication today. "It's been a tremendous experience," he said.

Contact Carlos Santos at (434) 295-9542 or [email protected]



Originally published by SANTOS; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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