Influential materials scientist Rustum Roy dies

Rustum Roy, Evan Pugh professor emeritus of the solid state, died at his home in State College, Pa., on Thursday Aug. 26. Roy was a founder of the Penn State Materials Research Laboratory, now the Materials Research Institute. In 1973 he founded the Materials Research Society, an international society which now has members in 80 countries.

Roy was born in Ranchi, Bihar Province, India, on July 3, 1924. He came to the United States in 1946 to study for a doctorate in ceramic science at Penn State. He joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor in 1951, rose to the rank of professor of geochemistry in 1957 and was named an Evan Pugh professor, Penn State's highest faculty rank, in 1981. In 1948, he married Della Martin Roy, professor emerita of materials science at Penn State, who survives.

Roy was an innovator who wrote seminal papers in a number of areas of materials science, according to Carlo Pantano, director of the Materials Research Institute. "Rustum Roy made a difference for the field of materials science and for Penn State. He had a tremendous publication record extending back 60 years that people still refer to in their research," Pantano said. "At every step of the way he seemed to be ahead of the curve, in research as well as in the way he managed the scientific enterprise."

Pantano continued, "He was well-known to be an enthusiastic and provocative lecturer by students and colleagues alike. His crystal chemistry course was on every graduate student's course list, in addition to numerous special topics courses he created in concert with the latest and hottest research topics in materials science."

Roy's seminal work in developing the sol-gel process and in identifying the phases of barium titanate, the most widely used material for capacitors, gained him worldwide recognition, according to Clive Randall, a Penn State colleague and the director of the Center for Dielectric Studies. "His impact on ceramics in the late '60s and '70s was obvious when I dealt with international companies who knew his work well and utilized it to improve the quality of ceramic capacitors," Randall said.

Roy also made important advances in microwave science and processing, according to his collaborator, Dinesh Agrawal, professor of materials at Penn State. Their lab was the first to apply microwaves to the processing of metals, and they also discovered a technique to separate the electrical and magnetic fields in microwaves and use them in processing.

Roy also was innovative in his approach to materials science and among the first to recognize the necessity of bringing together scientists from many disciplines to work on solving difficult problems. This interdisciplinary approach was the underlying philosophy of the Materials Research Laboratory, which he led from 1962 to 1985. In 1969, he founded the Science, Technology and Society program at Penn State, which became a model for similar programs at universities across the nation.

He was the author of six books with subjects that ranged from science policy to sexual ethics. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1973, and was a foreign member of four other National Academies. He also served as distinguished professor of materials science at Arizona State University and visiting professor of medicine at the University of Arizona.

Funeral services were held on Aug. 29, at the University Baptist and Brethren Church, 411 S. Burrowes Street, State College, Pa.

Last Updated June 22, 2011