John Scully Honored for Ensuring the Public Understands Its Risks from Corrosion

Corrosion can be extraordinarily dangerous.  In 2000, a pedestrian overpass collapsed at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, injuring 107 people, 13 critically.  Corroded steel supports were to blame. In Japan, at least 300 tons of contaminated groundwater flow into the ocean each day from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Cracked and corroded storage tanks are the culprit. Not surprisingly, fishing is banned in the area.

Even when the outcome is less newsworthy, corrosion takes a steady, outsized toll. A 2016 study released by NACE International, the not-for-profit professional organization for the corrosion control industry, concluded that the global cost of corrosion was $2.5 trillion annually.

Over the last three decades, John R. Scully, the Charles Henderson Chaired Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, has established an international reputation as a corrosion researcher and educator. He has also been at the forefront of those disseminating the latest information on corrosion, not only to the research community, but also to the general public. In recognition of his leadership, NACE has recently awarded him its T. J. Hull Award, presented for outstanding contributions to NACE in the field of publications.

“Although most people may not realize it, the quality and timeliness of information that academic journals publish is extraordinarily important,” says Professor Robert Kelly, the AT&T Professor of Engineering and co-director with Scully of the School’s Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering. “Policy makers, government officials and corporate executives often base their decisions on the technical information in these journals, and they count on that information being up-to-date and carefully vetted. As a writer and editor, John has always taken this responsibility to heart.”

Speaking Out on Issues Affecting Society

Scully has weighed in on a number of issues of public concern. Since 2003, there have been a number of failures of bolts used to connect blowout preventers, risers and other subsea equipment. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) committee that issued a report this year detailing steps that government and industry could employ to safeguard these bolts from corrosion, avoiding a disaster that could equal the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in magnitude.

Scully has also been outspoken about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. The city’s decision to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the more corrosive Flint River produced a surge in lead released from lead pipes and solder as well as widespread corrosion of the system’s iron pipes. As technical editor-in-chief of Corrosion, NACE’s journal, he has criticized government and industry leaders who discounted or ignored the long-established consensus on the dangers of lead from corrosion in water systems. “Enough technical information, lessons learned and clarity was available to make wise, data-driven, informed decisions prior to the problem,” he wrote in an editorial in Corrosion. “Much of this information was fully searchable on the web, with research abstracts from around the world available for free.”

To ensure that officials would have no excuse for failing to incorporate the latest findings on critical health and safety issues, Scully inaugurated an Editor’s Choice open access section of Corrosion in which pertinent articles of significant public import would be available to nonsubscribers and subscribers alike. He began by unlocking a series of articles on lead.

Accelerating the Pace of Publication

The Editor’s Choice feature is just one innovation that Scully introduced to Corrosion since he assumed his post as technical editor-in-chief in 2012. He moved the journal online, allowing him to post accepted articles immediately. “Authors don’t have to wait six months to a year to share their findings,” he says.

The publishing team now has its own app to streamline the review and approvals process. “As long as we have an Internet connection, we can work together to move articles through the process,” Scully says. This is important because Scully has broadened the editorial board to include researchers in six different countries.

Scully has also slashed reviewing time. Previously, it took six months for a paper to be reviewed. Now, reviews must be submitted within a month, and he has teams of on-call experts committed to reviewing select articles in just a week. “Most people would like information that could impact health, safety, or the environment to be available as soon as possible,” Scully says.

In addition, he introduced various forms of open access in addition to Editor’s Choice. This includes giving authors the right to unlock their articles on the Corrosion website for a small fee or to post a manuscript version of their article online 90 days after its official publication.

A Voice for the Public Good

It is Scully’s eminence as a researcher and educator that has given him the extraordinarily leverage he enjoys as an editor. From NACE alone, he earned the A. B. Campbell Award for best paper in Corrosion by an author under 35, the H. H. Uhlig Award for outstanding effectiveness in postsecondary education and the W. R. Whitney Award for significant improvements to corrosion science. “An editor has to be someone who is highly respected and reputable, a person with an untarnished record who can dole out bad news as well as good,” says his colleague Kelly. “John meets those criteria.”

But Scully is also a person who wants to use his eminence to help the general public and society. “If you rise far enough in science, you want to put yourself in a position where you have a voice,” he says. “You want to have as much positive influence as possible.”