David Pacchioli
March 01, 1996

The large, white-walled room feels almost empty. A desk looks dwarfed pushed against one wall. A scattering of other furnishings seems faceless and nondescript. In the middle of the floor, however, is a machine, an apparatus, that commands attention.

On metal legs that raise it three feet off the ground sits a keg-shaped chrome-plated tank, its hatch-like door open wide, its interior carefully lined with aluminum foil. At first glance it looks not unlike a miniature space capsule, set up for testing or display. Cords and wires marry it to a towering bank of electronic controls standing mutely alongside, face plates flashing orange numerals. In the center of the chamber, resting in a rotating tray, sits a small round crucible filled with gray titanium pellets, food for some bionic rabbit.

During a run, the door of the tank is closed and levered tight. A vacuum is created. A stocky gun set low in the chamber is heated electrically until a small tungsten strip in its middle reaches 1800 degrees C. The strip emits electrons, which are accelerated by a charge of 25,000 volts, collected, and focused into a thick beam. The beam is aimed at the crucible, melting and evaporating the titanium pellets into a cloud of vapor which then settles onto a thin plate of polished stainless steel.

The plate is coated, angstrom by angstrom, with a film of titanium, visible—had we a microscope—as a tight phalanx of long, columnar crystals, reassuringly impermeable.

This is the technology, called electron-beam physical vapor deposition, or EB-PVD, that is used to coat the turbine blades inside a jet engine. A blade made of super-alloy, protected with a coat of heat-resistant ceramic or oxide, can withstand temperatures some four times higher than the alloy can weather alone. Running at such high temperatures, the engine produces cleaner exhaust, and burns less fuel.

In the near future, EB-PVD may also be used in a host of other applications: to coat floor tiles and tool bits, to increase the life of automobile parts and medical implants, to improve superconductors and the molds that are used to manufacture plastic toys.

This innovative technology has come to Penn State from the E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute in Kiev, Ukraine.

Ukraine, the second largest of the former Soviet republics, has long been seen by Western eyes as part of Russia. The confusion is not surprising: Ukraine has struggled against Russian domination, cultural and political, for 300 years. Throughout its turbulent history, however, Ukraine has retained a proud, distinctive culture all its own.

Now, with independence, Ukraine faces severe new challenges. A country as large as France, incorporating some 55 million souls, it must find its place as a new nation, and somehow overcome the devastating legacies of centralized planning, environmental disaster, and political repression. The West, with a huge stake in the stability of this fledgling democracy, has recognized the need to help. In 1994-95, the U.S. government spent $900 million on Ukraine, making it the fourth largest recipient of American aid, behind Israel, Egypt, and Russia.

Over the past five years, Penn State, too, has forged a number of links with the new Ukraine: personal as well as professional; cultural and agricultural as well as high-tech. The electron-beam project is only the most visible of these connections—and there is promise of more to come.

As these fresh ties make clear, the flow of benefits from international cooperation is not one way. Ukraine and the West have a lot to offer one another.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, five years ago now, the plug was pulled on Soviet science. The universities and research institutes that made up the Soviet system were suddenly cut off from Moscow, source of both their funding and their contacts with the outside world. Many scientists left, scrambling for places in the West. Technologies, too, came up for grabs, as desperate institutions turned of necessity to foreign investment; information that had been under wraps for decades was suddenly made available. Into this environment of tumult and opportunity, along with many other interested parties, sailed the U.S. Navy.

The Cold War being over, the American government's idea was both to aid the struggling independent republics and to help our own cause by identifying technologies once strictly limited to military applications that might now be useful to American industry. The Paton Welding Institute had long been known to Navy intelligence as a leading center for advanced welding and coating technologies. What wasn't known, and remained to be determined after the Iron Curtain rolled back, was just how good the Ukrainian technologies were.

Coating technologies like EB-PVD are important in many industries, from microchips to airplane engines. Coatings alter the surface properties of materials, providing qualities needed for a particular application: not only thermal insulation but increased hardness, resistance to oxidation, electrical conductivity, and many others. Of the several coating methods currently in use, which include metal spray processes and chemical vapor deposition, EB-PVD presents distinct advantages.

"It has some nice qualities," says Charles Brickell, head of the manufacturing technology department at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory. "It's faster than sputtering, or ion implantation, or Detonation-gun. It has that columnar structure. It provides a nice mechanical bond. And it has a high coating rate."

But EB-PVD, in the West, has been expensive. A single production-quality machine of the type used for coating jet engine components—its vacuum chamber some 40 feet long—bears a tag of $15 million or more. Even the small research model currently installed at Penn State cost $260,000 to build. As a result, EB-PVD has been limited to "high-end" applications. In the U.S., says Brickell, it had by the 1970s become something of a niche technology. The last Western manufacturer of EB-PVD machines, a German firm, had stopped producing them in the late 1980s.

At the Paton Institute, however, work in EB-PVD has been steady since the 1950s, under the leadership of Academician Boris Movchan. When the Navy representatives visited Paton in 1992, they saw machines that were much simpler and far less expensive than Western designs. In addition, Movchan and his engineers had developed advanced techniques for using the machines which could produce new and potentially useful types of coatings.

The Office of Naval Research called for a meeting of interested parties at Penn State's ARL, a natural choice to host the gathering because of ARL's 50-year record of Navy-sponsored research. Represented in addition to the two long-time collaborators were the National Center for Manufacturing Science (NCMS), a government-funded technology transfer organization, and a number of American companies, including 3M, Armstrong, and General Electric.

John Leathers, associate vice president for the Commonwealth Education System at Penn State and a member of ARL's board of directors, was present at that first meeting. "There was a great deal of interest expressed in this technology," he remembers, enough to provoke the formation of a consortium. Under the original agreement, NCMS would head the project. Penn State, a member of the consortium, would serve as the physical site for the tech transfer. The combination of ARL leadership and the University's strong reputation in materials science, boosted by the existence of the brand-new Materials Research Institute at the Penn State Research Park, made University Park a logical choice.

In late 1992, members of the consortium, including Paul Denney, director of the ARL's high energy processing department, and Leathers, serving as non-technical adviser, traveled to Ukraine to check things out at close range—to, as Leathers puts it, "kick the tires on these machines." But on their arrival in Kiev, Leathers says, they found that the transfer of EB-PVD technology to the west wasn't going to be quite so easy. The Paton Institute, it turned out, was not in the habit of manufacturing machines for sale: Its engineers built only what they needed, and only to the relatively broad specifications necessary for research. "At that point the idea shifted," Leathers says. "Instead of bringing back actual machines, the decision was made to go in the direction of obtaining the 'tech-knowledge'—by forming an alliance. We would purchase parts, drawings, and specs, and have the machines made in the U.S. by American companies under Ukrainian supervision."

The idea seemed a sure bet for U.S. government funding. But a few months later the proposal circulated through Washington by NCMS fell through—a victim, says Leathers, of political whirlwinds. "Luckily," says Leathers, "[ARL director] Ray Hettche had already developed plan B." Hettche advanced a proposal whereby ARL would become not just the site but the primary American player in the international partnership—and won Navy funding. Suddenly NCMS was out of the picture; Penn State was dealing directly with the Ukrainians.

It remained, however, to okay this altered situation with Movchan and with Academician Boris Paton, who is not only head of the Institute named for his father, but long-time president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. As Leathers explains, NCMS had been providing the Paton Institute with regular, albeit preliminary, funding for the project. This sudden removal clouded things. Would there be someone reliable on the American end to replace NCMS? Why should Paton deal with Penn State?

Some of the private companies involved had already approached the Ukrainians about buying the technology for their own, well-guarded use. Could Penn State match these offers? "One thing we had in our advantage," says Brickell, "was that Movchan wanted to see this technology—his life's work for all those years—used in the world. His notion was that Penn State would in effect publish his work, infuse it into the marketplace."

Another advantage, apparently, was the steady presence of Leathers, who, since he had been involved as Penn State's emissary from the start, had been able to provide what he calls "a continuity of dialogue." From early on, Leathers had struck a warm personal relationship with Paton and Movchan, which had developed into a bond of trust.

In February 1994, Leathers flew yet again to Kiev. This time he and Movchan hammered out a memorandum of understanding between their two institutions for a long-term collaboration in E-beam R&D. In addition, Penn State purchased rights to the Ukrainian design, as well as guns, parts, and plans for two machines.

"Our goal," says Brickell, "was to get the technology, bring it over and evaluate it, and look for appropriate U.S. users—both companies that would manufacture the technology and industries who would be interested in using it."

Brickell, a retired Navy admiral, was hired to run the project. Drawings for only a part of one machine take up better than two feet of shelf space in his office overlooking Penn State's Blue golf course. ARL has contracted Sciaky Inc. of Chicago to build a machine to the Ukrainian design but using western standards, for which Penn State will furnish the guns.

As of October '94, Penn State has also started a national EB-PVD alliance, in which interested companies, laboratories, and organizations can become members at no cost. Those that have expressed interest include NASA, General Electric, Ford, Toyota, Armstrong, 3M, Corning, and several more. "Under the terms of the alliance, Penn State will be the center of expertise, and member companies will send their engineers here to work with ours," says Brickell.

The first Ukrainian-designed (Sciaky-built) machine should be installed in the University's new Materials Research Institute in September 1996. One of the first orders of business at this end is to develop an automated control system for it.

"The Ukrainians don't have electronic controls," Brickell explains. "They depend on a human operator to run the machine. We want to introduce an 'intelligent' control system that can respond to high-level commands—a human operator will tell the system what attributes it wants in a particular coating, and the system will adjust accordingly."

This system, he notes, will require a network of extremely sophisticated sensors to monitor the coating process at microscopic level. One such sensor, developed and patented by Penn State professor of industrial engineering Clayton Ruud, incorporates x-ray diffraction.

In the meantime, Jogender Singh, Penn State associate professor of engineering science and mechanics and the project's technical leader, is using the small, U.S.-built machine already installed at the site to work on new, economical coatings made of metal composites and ceramics, the latter to be used both on metal and on plastic. The first project, sponsored by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, is to develop multi-layer coatings of titanium-nitride, for use on drill bits and cutting tools. A bit protected by these gold-colored layers, according to Singh, exhibits two- to three-fold greater durability than untreated part. A second small machine will be used by Barbara Shaw, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, for research into corrosion-resistant coatings.

Ultimately, the idea is to transfer the technology to American industry. "We would like to create a machine that can be built for $2 million," Brickell says, "making it available in non-critical applications. 3M is interested in floor coverings. Mattel wants coatings for toy molds. The auto industry is interested. There are all kinds of possibilities."

Indeed. An updated EB-PVD technology could have a significant impact on American industry, by some estimates bringing an addition of 10,000 jobs and $10 billion to the American economy. But the project represents only the first of what promises to be a series of high-tech collaborations between Penn State and Ukraine. When Paton and Movchan came to Penn State in October 1994 to present a symposium on the coating technology, Paton brought along a list of the 140 research institutes that fell under his Academy's jurisdiction, and ideas about where there might be projects of interest to Penn State. Before he returned to Ukraine, Paton and then-Penn State president Joab Thomas had signed a memorandum of understanding providing for several exchanges. In early 1995, a Penn State advance team including Leathers, Hettche, and Denney, toured some of the Ukrainian institutes, and as a result of what they saw, a handful of other collaborative projects are getting underway.

For Ukraine, establishing international links like the EB-PVD agreement is vital to economic survival. But Ukraine has been fighting for its cultural survival for 300 years. Its opponents in the struggle have included the czars, the Soviet system, and an undiscriminating West. "Unlike our immediate western or northeastern neighbors, the Poles, the Czechs, and the Russians," writes poet Oksana Zabuzhko, "we in Ukraine, in terms of literature, still remain for the Western mind an undiscovered country."

Under the Soviet regime, as under the Russian imperial reign that preceded it, Ukraine was subjected to an unrelenting program of cultural, as well as political, repression. So thorough was this program that the Ukrainian language was forbidden in schools and in print in czarist times. "On my first visit to Kiev in 1979, you couldn't hear a word of Ukrainian spoken on the streets," says Michael Naydan, head of the department of Slavic and East European Languages. "It was closeted, spoken at home." The tacit ban served to heighten the division within Ukraine between the industrialized, Russified east and the agricultural west, creating tensions which remain today.

"Ukrainians are very conscious of two events in their history," says Naydan, himself of Ukrainian descent. "The first is the terror-famine of 1932-33, the genocide of seven million peasants, most of them Ukrainian, who were denied grain at Stalin's orders. The second is Chernobyl. The famine severely impacted on population growth, and the Ukrainian intellectual elite was destroyed in the Stalin purges of the 1930s. Chernobyl destroyed the ecology."

In short, he adds, "Ukraine is a country that's been devastated. It's dysfunctional. It has to find its way out of that devastation."

Naydan has studied the reflection of this lasting damage in current Ukrainian fiction, which he sees as permeated with bleak images of family breakdown, depression, miscommunication, and soul-lessness. Soviet domination, he writes, has left a society in "moral and ethical bankruptcy," one whose recovery will be a long and arduous process. It is to aid in this rebuilding that Naydan has worked to promote the understanding of Ukrainian culture in the west, and vice versa. When Naydan arrived at Penn State in 1988, the University's program in Ukrainian studies consisted of an occasional language course. Since then, with the help of donations from the Woskobs, a family of ethnic Ukrainian origins living in State College, he has built a program that includes regular courses in Ukrainian language and culture, a lecture series, and a summer-abroad program for undergraduates in Kiev.

He has translated prominent Ukrainian poets and writers, past and present, in many cases making their work available in English for the first time. He has presented papers and initiated symposia on important Ukrainian cultural figures like the 18th-century philosopher and poet Gregory Skovoroda. And he has brought a steady stream of Fulbright scholars to University Park. Poet Lina Kostenko, the first of these visitors, was banned from publishing in her homeland for fifteen years.

"We're primarily bringing here the younger generation cultural elite," Naydan says. "These are people who grew up in the intellectual underground, and who have been thorns in the side of the Soviet system." Before the fall of the Soviet Union, many of these dissidents and makers of culture were hounded or jailed by the KGB, their work suppressed: not, in many cases, for its political content, but simply because it was written in Ukrainian.

With independence, times have changed for Ukrainian culture. The government has embraced the language, which is now taught in schools in place of Russian. Ironically, independence has brought its own set of problems. Where once the state paid writers and virtually guaranteed publication (for "acceptable" writing), now there are no jobs in academia, and no money in publishing. "These are people on the periphery," Naydan says. "Coming here gives them an opportunity to make a few dollars to survive, as well as access to libraries and computers. Also, it helps them to better understand the West."

In return, the visitors can help cure the persisting misperceptions that would lump Ukrainian culture with the larger and more politically powerful Russian culture that has long overshadowed it.

If there was one area in which the old Ukraine had few problems, it was agriculture. Blessed with some of the world's richest soils, the large state farms were immensely productive, growing 20 percent of the food for the entire Soviet Union on less than three percent of its land.

But the Soviet system had its flaws. "In order to maintain integration," notes Penn State agricultural economist Dean Jansma, "each republic was given a different responsibility. The Ukrainian responsibility was producing the food. Equipment was somebody else. Energy was somebody else again.

"With the explosion of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine has been cut off from the inputs it needs, especially its energy supply."

The result has been a succession of bad harvests, with agricultural production down as much as 50 percent over pre-independence levels. What was once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union now has trouble feeding itself.

Jansma is associate dean of international programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and director of Penn State's Center for the Study of Ukrainian Agriculture. Established in 1992 with a grant from the Woskob family, the Center's purpose is to help Ukrainian agriculture make the difficult transition to a free market economy. To do this, the College has set up a faculty exchange with the Ukrainian Agricultural Academy, the national agricultural university, located in the Holosiiv forest on the outskirts of Kiev.

The program, Jansma says, "is still in the courtship stage." In the summer of 1992, the rector of the Ukrainian Academy and six junior faculty visited Penn State. In subsequent summers, additional teams have visited. So far, five Penn State faculty have traveled to Ukraine.

"The idea initially," Jansma says, "has been to identify those areas where collaboration could be most useful." These include agricultural economics and rural sociology, entomology, biotechnology, and agricultural engineering. "One thing we have done," he adds, "is to emphasize applied research—work that is directly applicable to food and agricultural systems."

Although facing a difficult period, Jansma stresses, the Ukrainians "have a lot of things going for them. The farms aren't state of the art, but they aren't way behind. They could have first-rate productivity. What's going to be critical is the establishment of an organizational structure to help with privatization."

And there remain things the Ukrainians can teach us, too. "Close to 30 cents on the dollar of U.S. agricultural product is sold overseas," Jansma notes. "Our faculty need to know about these markets—this is where our market and our competition are going to be in the future."

There is, of course, another dimension in which we may hope to gain from crossing cultures with a place like Ukraine. That dimension shines clear from the experience of Jim Brasfield, a poet and lecturer in English at Penn State who spent the 1993-94 school year in Kiev as a Fulbright lecturer.

"I can't describe the devastation, what's left after the fall," he says of his first impressions of the newly independent Ukraine. "You wonder how the Soviet Union lasted as long as it did." In Kiev, crumbling infrastructure and bleak Soviet architecture overlaid the faded splendor of the old Byzantine city. A typical rural dwelling, he found during his travels, consisted of two un-plumbed rooms, one upstairs, one down. In one such home he remembers seeing "a color TV in the kitchenette running American movies that were all dubbed by a single voice."

"Capitalism has exploded there," Brasfield reports. "At the same time there is a very old culture that has survived despite Communism. Entrepreneurs are transporting contemporary American free-market culture—its most vulgar aspects—straight into a setting that is virgin to the hard sell." The resulting clash, he says, is ruthlessly one-sided.

Still, Brasfield's Fulbright posting was to one of the current bright spots in Ukrainian intellectual life: the freshly reopened University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy. Dating to 1615, closed down by Czar Alexander III almost two hundred years ago, Mohyla was re-chartered in 1992 as a semi-private university, the first in the history of Ukraine. "The reopening meant a lot to Ukrainians," Brasfield says, "because the university pre-dates high Russian culture."

Only two languages were allowed in Mohyla when Brasfield taught there: Ukrainian and English. The faculty was a broad mix of westerners, from Germany, Canada, and the United States. The 250 students, Brasfield says, were the "cream of the crop" of Ukrainian youth.

Although he had received a creative arts grant from the Fulbright foundation, and had submitted proposals for a course in translation and a poetry workshop, "When I got there," Brasfield says, "The dean of humanities told me that what they needed was a good survey of American literature." He had to scramble for books, but with the help of the U.S. Information Service and America House in Kiev, the cultural arm of the American embassy, he was able to pull together a course including Melville and Dickinson, James and Pound.

"In classes, they were sheer joy, very eager," he remembers of his students. Used to attending classes without texts, depending solely on lectures, "they loved the open western style—reading and asking questions." At first, in fact, he was taken aback by how hard his students worked. "They don't have the diversions that we have here." With his leftover book allowance, he helped the students publish a literary magazine, the first in Mohyla's history.

Outside the classroom, Brasfield was quickly introduced into Kiev's community of writers and artists, and made to feel at home. "I was very lucky," he remembers. "I just slipped into that world." Traveling to Kosiv in the Carpathian mountains and to Lviv with the poet Oleh Lysheha, he saw something of life beyond the capital. After 10 months, Brasfield came away profoundly affected.

"My sense of art changed, my sense of what poetry is," he says now. "A sense of a life in art was given to me in a new way.

"Artists don't make a place in their lives for art," he explains. "Art is their lives, despite all the difficulties."

Which is not to romanticize, he insists, or not too much. When his ten months were up, Brasfield was ready to come home. "The intensity of living in what were often third-world circumstances just wore me down," he says. "You spend a great deal of time and energy each day just foraging for what you need."

But living with the Ukrainians, he adds, he came to "a better understanding of what's important in life.

"They depend on each other. They have to.

"And they get by."

John Leathers, Ph.D., is associate vice president for the Commonwealth Educational System, 111 Old Main, University Park, PA 16802; 814-863-0327. L. Raymond Hettche, Ph.D., is director of the Applied Research Laboratory and professor of engineering research, 224 Applied Science Building; 865-6343. Charles H. Brickell, Jr., is head of ARL's manufacturing technology department, 165 Applied Science Building; 863-9900. Jogender Singh, Ph.D., is associate professor of materials science and engineering, 863-9898.

Michael M. Naydan, Ph.D., is associate professor and head of the department of Slavic and East European languages, 211 Sparks Building, 865-1352. J. Dean Jansma, Ph.D., is associate dean for international programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, 240 Agricultural Administration Building, 863-0249. James Brasfield, M.F.A., is instructor of English, 103 S. Burrowes Building, 865-6381. .

Last Updated March 01, 1996