Reader Mail

Some time ago I wrote a post, “Questions on Tin Whiskers.” Reader Michael responds below. He makes some good points.

Dr. Ron, I’m responding to your blog regarding tin whiskers. I actually have a failure analysis report I did a couple of years ago in which failure of our product was due to this issue and occurred on a part that came into RoHS compliance only 3 months prior.

I’m not sure that your question of identifying whisker issues in product that proper steps have been taken to mitigate the problem is a constructive one. The fact is that many of the component manufacturers from overseas jumped into compliance without any thought or regard to this issue thereby flooding the industry with components such as plagued my company. We have not had this issue since we’ve specified an alternate finish.

These whiskers are so delicate that most problems disappear when the technician starts to work on the failed unit and the problem never re-appears so it is written off as an anomaly, loose/bad connection and not investigated any further. It was only my own curiosity as to the number of “no problem found” failures of our keypads we had suddenly encountered that caused me to dig deeper and when I looked into the connector I was amazed at the crystal city staring back at me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing after all of these years.

After seeing this problem first hand I became, and am, quite convinced that there were and are people who will be losing life, limb, and property because this forced compliance with its risk was not given proper worldwide attention.


A popular topic on my blog is solder density calculations. Rhonda writes

Hi Dr. Lasky,
I am a precious metals recycler and would very much appreciate your verifying the validity of an equation that approximates the Karat Value of various alloys of gold based on S.G. which I will call density or “D,” and the Karat Value is “K.” The equation is seems to hold relatively true even when the exact composition of the alloy is unknown, although the percent of error obviously will increase as density decreases. I would also appreciate not only verification but also more specific information on percent of error for densities below about 14 or 15 g/cc. Here is the equation:

K = 0.0089D^3 – 0.550D^2 + 12.5299D – 77.06

Thank you so much for whatever assistance you can provide.

These types of equations can only work for one alloying metal with the gold.  This one is only for copper.  It is also calibrated in Rhonda’s favor as it reads the karat level about 10% low.   I was able to determine this by using the Excel Solder Density worksheet that I developed. If the alloy was gold and lead, a 50% by weight gold (12 karat) would show as 15.7 karat with this equation and Rhonda would lose her shirt.


In response to my blog post on copper as the precursor to civilization, Harvey writes about pollution from early mining operation.

Also interesting, early copper mining and processing led to the first examples of human induced environmental damage. There are documented sites in the Alps where copper processing by prehistoric peoples has left areas treeless to this day, due to heavy metal contamination.

Mining and smelting were very tough businesses in ancient days.  In addition to pollution, many workers died from toxic fumes.

Dr. Ron

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About Dr. Ron

Materials expert Dr. Ron Lasky is a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and senior technologist at Indium Corp. He has a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University, and is a prolific author and lecturer, having published more than 40 papers. He received the SMTA Founders Award in 2003.