College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

New NDE graduate certificate to be offered

Nicola BowlerBeginning fall 2011, a new graduate certificate in nondestructive evaluation (NDE) will be offered through Iowa State’s Engineering Online Learning (EOL) program. Nicola Bowler, director of NDE graduate certificate studies, says the certificate will assist professionals who are looking for an opportunity to advance their education and understand more about NDE through a flexible program of learning. The certificate joins Iowa State’s undergraduate minor in NDE and an online NDT Education Resource Center ( as the latest in educational initiatives from Iowa State’s Center for NDE (CNDE).

Nondestructive evaluation is an essential, increasingly technical career field, and many companies in aviation, manufacturing, transport, power engineering, and other industries rely heavily on a well-educated NDE workforce. Careers in nondestructive evaluation come in various forms. The most common career path is becoming an inspector. NDE inspectors are responsible for assessing critical components and structures and identify any defects that may lead to loss of quality, revenue, or life. Other careers could include NDE educators and researchers, all employing similar methods to advance the industry.

There are six major NDE methods. Three of these (visual, dye penetrant, and magnetic particle inspection) are restricted to inspection of accessible surfaces. The new certificate program focuses on the other three methods, which are more complex and routinely used to inspect the interior of structures. Bowler says two of these techniques are more commonly known: “The NDE methods most people would be familiar with, such as ultrasound and x-ray, are also used in the medical field.” The third of the three major techniques emphasized in the certificate is eddy current NDE, which relies on inducing electrical currents in metal components. The certificate teaches the fundamentals of these three major methods and emphasizes their relevance to aviation, power generation, and manufacturing industries.

Many excellent technician training programs and on-the-job training opportunities exist for NDE inspectors. The certificate plays a different role: “It’s really intended to benefit people who are pursuing a career in NDE outside of routine inspecting,” Bowler explains. “We are trying to offer something that would give an understanding of the physical principles of these NDE methods to engineers who might be involved in developing new ways of applying them and/or solving new inspection problems.” The course instructors are all affiliates of the College of Engineering who conduct research at the Center for NDE. “We are all people who do research in the field, so when we enter the classroom we bring that background knowledge to the instruction,” she says.

NDE eddy current
Simulated distribution of eddy currents in a metal test-piece below a surface coil.

Offering the program online requires a creative approach in terms of providing access to the equipment needed to complete homework assignments. In one solution to this predicament, portable instrument kits have been developed that can be loaned to online students. “For anyone who doesn’t have laboratory access, these kits are available so students can, for example, use an eddy current probe to obtain hands-on experience of the signals that are generated from different test cases,” Bowler explains. Another example of a learning tool that works well in the online learning environment is computer simulation software developed at CNDE, which is used to convey physical concepts introduced in the lectures.

Bowler hopes the certificate will be of interest to people outside of the United States as well. She plans to advertise heavily in China because of the country’s quickly growing technical competitiveness. She says this certificate offers students and professionals in all parts of the world capabilities that could lead to increased job placement. “We will continue getting the word out in various ways until we are overwhelmed with interest, and then we will let it build it’s own momentum after that,” says Bowler.

Students interested in the program must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related science, along with an understanding of certain math concepts. The certificate requires a minimum of four classes, including an introductory course, two of three courses that focus on the different NDE methods, and the option to take the third method course or choose from a list of electives.

The program is currently accepting applications. To apply, fill out an application for graduate study with Iowa State admissions. For more information on the new graduate certificate, contact Nicola Bowler or visit the EOL website. The certificate will be offered to students on campus as well as online.