President Titanium – a titanium metal expert
The idea of President Titanium emerged from the public pressure regarding some really specific properties of the titanium metal or some titanium applications.
As you may know already, there are a lot of things everybody knows about titanium – check the list here. But as you can see, there are also a lot of things nobody knows about titanium. It is practically impossible for a single person to know everything there is to know about this metal.
That’s why I’ve decided to enlist the help of certain individuals that have a lot of knowledge about specific things about titanium. I call such an individual a President Titanium – because, he is, same as a true president, the master of his domain. He can teach, explain and expose titanium with the best of them.
The President Titanium for the month of December is Theodore Gray. His full name is Theodore Wilt Gray, he was born in Louisiana and he is now age 46. He is also a prominent element collector; best know for his wooden periodic table of elements which has compartments that can hold samples of each element. This creation won him an IG Nobel prize for chemistry in 2002. IG Nobel prizes are an American parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October for ten achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think.
He is also an accomplished writer, holding a regular column for Popular Science entitled "Gray Matter”. In 2009, his articles were published as a collection in a book titled Mad Science: Experiments You Can do at Home—But Probably Shouldn't. He has a consistent on-line presence at:
I approached him because of his impressive knowledge regarding both the chemical properties of titanium and titanium application in different consumer products, and here is what I’ve managed to get:
Titanium Exposed: Mr. Gray, you have reviewed and documented on your site tens of products that contained or claimed to contain titanium. Which was the most unusual, the product that you least expected to find titanium in?
Theodore Gray: The word “Titanium” has become a marketing term which you will often find used on products that contain no actual titanium. I find these fake titanium products to be at least as interesting and amusing as the real ones. The funniest one I’ve found is transparent “Titanium” clear caulk, which is of course nutty because titanium is a common, almost universal ingredient in all paints and caulks except clear ones, because titanium dioxide is a common opacifier. I also found it very amusing that a “titanium” golf club from a fancy sports store was actually just aluminum, while a cheap one from Wal-Mart turned out to be real titanium. Buyers beware when it comes to titanium consumer products.
Titanium Exposed: I think you agree that titanium metal is being increasingly used in commercial applications lately. In your opinion, what are the fields that do not use titanium, although they should?
Theodore Gray : I’m still a bit confused why titanium is used for hammers: Hammers are sold by weight, so what difference does it make if it’s 14 ounces of iron or 14 ounces of titanium, which makes the hammer head bigger and softer? But once titanium becomes cheap enough, I’d like to see it used just about everywhere that iron and aluminum currently are, except maybe cooking pots where aluminum’s higher heat conductivity is good.
Titanium Exposed : As a chemist, do you think that the Kroll process – which is the main production process for titanium metal – is it susceptible of being replaced in the future by something different, maybe more efficient? Do you know of any projects that are in the final stages of research and development?
Theodore Gray: I don’t know of anything currently in the works, but clearly titanium is crying out for a better process of reducing it. It’s very useful, and the raw ore is extremely common, so the only thing that’s standing in the way of wider use is a technical solution to the problem of how to turn the ore into the metal, and that kind of problem has a history of getting solved eventually.
Titanium Exposed : You have written a great article published at popsci.com about identifying titanium in different products. However, not everybody has a grinder ready. Do you know of any other methods that can be used at home in order to spot genuine titanium items?
Theodore Gray: That’s the simplest method I know of. Of course there are chemical tests or x-ray fluorescence, but those all require special equipment. A grinder or dremel tool is about as low-tech as you can get.
Titanium Exposed : Titanium is a component of many minerals, some of which have crystalline forms. Is there a way that these “titanium gems” could be artificially manufactured?
Theodore Gray: I don’t know if anyone has tried, but I’d be surprised if it’s very hard to grow various titanium compounds into crystals.
Titanium Exposed: Have you studied “black titanium” alloys, developed by jewelry manufacturers? If you did, how do you think titanium’s original properties are altered in the coloring process?
Theodore Gray: I have not looked at this.
Titanium Exposed : You have shared with us that you have a titanium dental implant. If it’s not too personal, can you also share the most significant part of this experience?
Theodore Gray: Well it was no fun getting it put in! The best part was that it let me ask the dentist if he had any spares for my collection. Unfortunately he didn’t, but later I was able to get several from a company that makes them.
Titanium Exposed : How do you assess the current and the future situation in the market of titanium applications, based on your knowledge of this element?
Theodore Gray: I’m sure it’s going to find more and more uses, and at some point someone is going to invent a much better way of producing and working it, at which point its natural advantages will propel it to very wide usage.
Titanium Exposed : What are your personal views regarding the titanium metal regarding its continued development as a structural metal for the future?
Theodore Gray: As I said, I hate things that rust. Rust is one of the most destructive, expensive chemical processes in the world. Think of all the money that is spent painting and repainting bridges, ships, containers, cars, etc. The only reason iron is used for these structural applications is because it’s cheap (and to a lesser degree because it’s easy to weld). Although it’s probably pie in the sky to imagine titanium ever becoming cheap enough to build bridges out of, wouldn’t it be great if some day rusting could be a thing of the past at least for most consumer goods.
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