Tim Foecke

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Tim Foecke (in 2002)

Timothy Foecke (born 1963) is an American metallurgist and founder and former director of the NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting[1] at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).


Foecke was born in Missouri, moving at age two to Edina, Minnesota and at age twelve to a farm north of Howard Lake, Minnesota. He graduated from Howard Lake-Waverly High School in 1982.

Foecke received a bachelor's degree in 1986 and PhD in materials science and engineering in 1991, both from the University of Minnesota.[2] His thesis work, completed under Professor William W. Gerberich, involved the interaction of cracks and crack tip emitted dislocations on toughening in crystals, and measured the effect of lattice flow stress on the critical stress intensity for dislocation emission from a Mode I crack in a series of single crystal alkali halide solid solutions.

He was awarded a National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship at NIST to work with Dr. Robb M. Thomson in 1991 to study dislocation generation and motion in nanomaterials. He observed the generation and motion of Orowan dislocations from misfit interfacial sources in single crystal Cu/Ni nanolayered composites in an in situ TEM deformation experiment.

Foecke is a second cousin to NFL place kicker Adam Vinatieri (their mothers were first cousins) and is a third cousin of Evel Knievel.[3]


Beginning in 1996, Foecke has been involved in the forensic examination of the structure and mechanical properties of metals recovered from the wreck of the RMS Titanic, and has been involved in expeditions in 1996, 1998 and 2004.[4] He performed experiments on a number of hull fragments and definitively disproved the theory that the steel used to construct the hull of the Titanic was inferior and brittle. He was the originator of the "rivet theory" to explain the rapid sinking of the Titanic.[5] His initial report on the hull steel and rivets was published in 1998.[6] This study was greatly expanded in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Hooper McCarty in her PhD thesis work at Johns Hopkins University and was published in 2008 in the book "What Really Sank the Titanic - New Forensic Discoveries" (Citadel Press)[7] and has been published as a German translation "Warum sank die Titanic wirklich?: Neue forensische Erkenntnisse (Springer Vieweg) (2012)".

Foecke was a member of the National Construction Safety Team that analyzed the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001,[8] and was responsible for all failure analysis and fractography of steel components, forensic image analysis of images and video footage contributed by the public and media organizations to identify damage and failure mechanisms of the steel components impacted by the aircraft and ascertain the integrity of the fireproofing on the steel, and investigations looking into evidence of maximum temperatures reached by recovered building components.

Foecke lead a project at NIST that created a finite element model of the wreck of the USS Arizona, attempting to estimate remaining lifespan before collapse and to provide a mechanism to test remediation techniques before implementing them on the monument.[9] Foecke is also a consultant on conservation efforts on the wrecks of the CSS Hunley and USS Monitor.[10]

Foecke has been involved in a project attempting to stabilize and conserve the Inconel components of the Apollo 11 first stage Rocketdyne F-1 engine recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.[11]

He has been involved in a number of television science productions as an interviewee and consultant, including Titanic - Anatomy of a Disaster (Discovery Channel), Titanic Live (Discovery Channel), Titanic - Answers from the Abyss (Discovery Channel), Collapse of the World Trade Center (Discovery Canada), Seconds from Disaster - Sinking of the RMS Titanic (National Geographic Channel), Living in a Material World (Discovery Science Channel), Return to Titanic (National Geographic Channel), Science of Superhuman Strength (Discovery Channel), and Humanless Earth (NOVA).

Foecke's work has been covered in the media extensively, with front-page articles in the New York Times [12][13] and Washington Post,[14][15] as well as interviews with TV, radio and print media around the world. He was one of the first "mystery guests" on the NPR series "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", appearing on the 5th ever broadcast on January 31, 1998.[16]

Foecke helped the Science Museum of Maryland in Baltimore develop the exhibit "Science of the Titanic", which tours children's museums in the US [17] and has delivered over 200 presentations to school groups from elementary to college on various forensic topics, including "What Sank the Titanic" and "Cool, Old, Famous Broken Stuff", attempting to interest kids in STEM field careers.

Foecke is founder and past Director of the NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting,[18] the mission of which is helping the US auto industry get lighter, next-generation materials into vehicle bodies. A $4M, congressionally-funded project, current work involves complex, multipath and high rate testing of materials such as carbon fiber composites and advanced high strength steels, and using the data to generate constitutive models to be used in finite element design of car bodies and the needed manufacturing tools.

Foecke is a consultant to the National Capital Planning Commission on materials selection and durability for the planned Eisenhower Memorial on Maryland Avenue in Washington, DC.

From 2001-2012, Foecke was an Adjunct Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and since 2010 has been an Adjunct Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland - College Park,[19][20] teaching courses in thermodynamics / kinetics of materials, structure/property relationships in materials and he developed a new course in engineering materials selection, which after one year as an elective was moved by the department to be a required core class. In 2017 he expanded the curriculum with a class on high strength metallic materials and a University Honors seminar course on the root causes of historic engineering failures. Dr. Foecke retired from federal government service after 28 years in November 2019 and joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland - College Park full-time as a lecturing professor.

Foecke has a Bacon Number of 2 [21] (Martin Sheen having been the narrator of the Discovery Channel documentary "Titanic-Anatomy of a Disaster", and co-starred in the movie "JFK" with Kevin Bacon), and an Erdős number of 4 [22] (via Robb Thomson to Peter Bergmann To Ernst G. Straus to Paul Erdős), giving him an Erdős–Bacon number of 6.

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Exxon Fellowship (1986–1991)
  • Materials Research Society Graduate Student Award (1990)
  • National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow (1991–1993).[23]
  • The Joseph Linnard Prize of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (1997).[24]
  • Named "Hero of Public Service" by the Council for Excellence in Government and the Ford Foundation (1998).[25]
  • United States Department of Commerce Gold Medal (for his part in the World Trade Center collapse investigation) (2005).[26]
  • NIST - William P. Slichter Award (recognizing excellence in interactions with industry) (2011)
  • Excellence in Teaching Award (College Level) - Maryland Association of Science Teachers (2012)
  • Distinguished Team Award (shared) - US Department of Energy (2019)


  1. ^ NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting, retrieved 2013-04-15
  2. ^ University of Minnesota, retrieved 2010-12-05
  3. ^ Phillips, J.D. Genealogical Amusements. North Michigan University. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  4. ^ RMS Titanic Inc., retrieved 2010-12-05
  5. ^ Broad, William J. (January 27, 1998), "Faulty Rivets Emerge as Clues To Titanic Disaster", The New York Times, retrieved 2010-12-05
  6. ^ NIST Personnel Web Page, retrieved 2010-12-02
  7. ^ Broad, William J. (April 15, 2008), "In Weak Rivets, A Possible Key to Titanic's Doom", The New York Times, retrieved 2010-12-01
  8. ^ NIST and the World Trade Center, retrieved 2007-11-12
  9. ^ Ruane, Michael E. (December 7, 2006), "One Last Mission for Ship Sunk in Pearl Harbor Attack", The Washington Post, retrieved 2010-12-01
  10. ^ NIST Technicalendar, retrieved 2010-12-05
  11. ^ Bezos Expeditions F-1 Engine Recovery, retrieved 2016-04-21
  12. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15titanic.html
  13. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/27/science/faulty-rivets-emerge-as-clues-to-titanic-disaster.html
  14. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1998/02/18/a-chilling-theory-about-the-titanic/a38388ac-e6a1-4b43-9570-49bc09207c2a/
  15. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/06/AR2006120601916.html
  16. ^ https://www.npr.org/programs/waitwait/archrndwn/1998/jan/980131.waitwait.html
  17. ^ Titanic Science (PDF), retrieved 2010-12-01
  18. ^ NCAL, retrieved 2016-03-23
  19. ^ Johns Hopkins University. "EP Homepages". Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  20. ^ University of Maryland. "Materials Science and Engineering Faculty". Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  21. ^ Oracle of Bacon - Tim Foecke, retrieved 2012-09-10
  22. ^ The Erdős Project - Tim Foecke, retrieved 2012-09-10
  23. ^ NRC Associates Program, retrieved 2010-12-01
  24. ^ The Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers. "ABS Linnard Prize". Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  25. ^ NIST. "NISTIR 6250 Metallurgy Division 1998 Annual Reportl" (PDF). Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  26. ^ NIST. "DOC Gold Medal" (PDF). Retrieved December 5, 2010.

External links[edit]