Professor Emeritus Robert Balluffi, multifaceted materials scientist, dies at 98

Robert W. Balluffi, professor emeritus within the MIT Division of Supplies Science and Engineering (DMSE), died Dec. 8 at his dwelling in Ithaca, New York. He was 98 years previous.

Described by colleagues because the final of an period of supplies scientists with a holistic understanding of the sphere, Balluffi was famend for each his experience and publications in a broad vary of subjects, together with crystal defects, solid-state diffusion, and crystalline interfaces.

“He represents a mind-set about supplies usually, in all elements, that’s disappearing over time,” says DMSE’s W. Craig Carter, the Toyota Professor of Supplies Processing, who was a colleague of Balluffi’s. A contemporary pattern towards specialization in supplies science is one purpose. “Additionally, the metrics by which we succeed not foster any individual who has a really catholic view of the self-discipline. Bob was the final of a bunch of people that knew about the whole area, fairly than newer generations who know very deeply a fraction of the sphere.”

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Born in Bayshore, on New York’s Lengthy Island, in 1924, Balluffi grew up on the East Facet of Manhattan, the place his father labored as a social employee, serving first-generation European immigrants. Balluffi’s mother and father, neither of whom had any superior formal training, inspired him to use to MIT. Although he initially had “no robust convictions about this myself,” Balluffi wrote in an autobiography in Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids in 1994, a dedication issue marking his seventieth birthday, he utilized and was admitted into the Class of 1945.

Throughout his sophomore yr at MIT, when Balluffi began majoring in metallurgy, the USA had entered World Conflict II. He was drafted by the Military and served as a foot soldier in Germany through the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine, key turning factors for the Allied forces. He was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic service, which Balluffi described as “doing what needed to be completed underneath the appalling circumstances that prevailed.”

Balluffi got here again to the U.S. in 1946 and, underneath the GI Invoice, resumed his research at MIT at an accelerated tempo, incomes a bachelor’s diploma in metallurgy the subsequent yr. Monetary help from the federal government and a analysis assistantship allowed him to remain on at MIT to do graduate work. Underneath the auspices of his advisor Professor Morris Cohen, he began his thesis work on the habits of carbides throughout chromium-steel tempering, igniting what would turn out to be a lifelong ardour for analysis.

After incomes a PhD in 1950, Balluffi secured a place on the government-funded analysis lab of Sylvania Electrical Merchandise in Bayside, Lengthy Island. There he performed early research involving the Kirkendall impact, which helped clarify points in solid-state diffusion, an necessary course of in supplies improvement.

In 1954, Balluffi entered academia, turning into an assistant professor within the Division of Mining, Metallurgy, and Petroleum Engineering on the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He started his research in, amongst different subjects, crystal defects, or imperfections within the association of atoms in a stable. Defects management a number of the properties of supplies, resembling electrical conductivity in metals.

He left Illinois in 1964 and spent the turbulent late ’60s at Cornell College, the place Balluffi established a analysis program on radiation harm, the degrading impact radiation can have on supplies, and did intensive research into grain boundaries, key to creating new metallic alloys.

In 1978, after a divorce and a remarriage, Balluffi returned to MIT as professor of metallurgy. He discovered a extra crowded campus than he left 28 years earlier than, “with far fewer open vistas and a startling improve within the variety of cars squeezed into each conceivable house.”

Balluffi additionally discovered at MIT that his status as an experimental scientist preceded him. Samuel Allen SM ’71, PhD ’75, now DMSE’s POSCO Professor Emeritus of Bodily Metallurgy, knew a lot about his work in crystal defects and different areas. He held one paper Balluffi co-authored specifically esteem, “Measurements of Equilibrium Emptiness Concentrations in Aluminum,” revealed in Bodily Assessment in 1960.

“It was the primary paper that definitively proved that vacancies exist in thermal equilibrium,” says Allen, referring to a kind of crystal defect. “It was an amazing factor to make use of in educating due to the significance of the outcomes and the class of the experiment.”

Allen and Balluffi, their workplaces in DMSE being shut, themselves turned shut. “He was an necessary mentor determine to me,” Allen says. He sat in on a well-liked graduate class Balluffi taught, 3.33 (Defects in Supplies). “Once I was a junior school member, I might sit in on a few of my colleagues’ lessons, and that was one which I realized an amazing deal from.”

The 2 later taught a category collectively, 3.21 (Kinetics Processes in Supplies), a collaboration that led to a brand new graduate-level textbook laying out the constructing blocks of a supplies science training. They invited Craig Carter to assist in its writing, a five-year lengthy challenge that culminated in “Kinetics of Supplies,” revealed in 2005.

Merton Flemings, head of DMSE from 1982 to 1994 and Toyota Professor Emeritus, calls the work a “tour de drive and a serious contribution to supplies science.”

Carter says engaged on the challenge gave him a brand new appreciation for Balluffi: “I got here away with a better realization of his kindness and thoughtfulness towards making a guide that might assist college students be taught.”

Balluffi has two different supplies science books, “Introduction to Elasticity Principle for Crystal Defects” and “Interfaces in Crystalline Supplies.” The latter he co-wrote with Oxford College professor of supplies science Adrian Sutton.

“All people within the area ought to have a duplicate of Sutton and Balluffi on their bookshelf,” Carter says.

Balluffi was a fellow of the American Bodily Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences. He was on the DMSE school till he retired in 1996. In 2004, he moved to Ithaca to be nearer to his household.

His preeminence as a scholar and researcher apart, Balluffi had different abilities. As a younger man, he performed jazz trumpet, emulating Louis Armstrong — “I by no means turned fluent within the excessive register above excessive C,” he wrote in his autobiography — and immersed himself in sports activities.

He was additionally a proficient watercolor artist, Allen says. He painted scenes round Boston and close to his dwelling in Brookline, the place a light-rail line introduced the Inexperienced Line trolley out of a tunnel, a traditional Boston-area cityscape. “He had one image I actually bear in mind,” Allen says, “a Inexperienced Line practice popping out of that tunnel with the CITGO signal within the background.”

As we speak, a Balluffi authentic hangs in DMSE’s workplaces in Cambridge — a portrait of his thesis advisor Morris Cohen.

Balluffi is survived by his youngsters, Andrew, Barbara, and Frank, and stepchildren, Stephen, Gail, and Robert.


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