$1 million bequest from pioneering researcher honors two faculty members

Liam Jackson
January 18, 2016

In the 1950s, graduate student Steward Flaschen met two Penn State faculty members who would have a profound impact on his renowned career: Rustum Roy, former Evan Pugh Professor of Solid State Science, and Elburt Osborn, former vice president for research.

To honor their impact, Flaschen pledged more than $1 million of his estate to endow a professorship at Penn State. Flaschen’s family named the endowed professorship the Steward S. Flaschen Professorship. The professorship will be awarded to a faculty member in the in College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“Steward Flaschen is a well-known name in the field of materials science. Some of his accomplishments laid the groundwork for microelectronics, and his work at Bell Labs and ITT contributed to important advances in the field. We’re honored that such a prolific researcher has decided to give back to support the materials science and engineering program at Penn State,” said Susan Sinnott, professor and head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“Steward’s gift is vital and will enable us to provide faculty with needed support. We sincerely believe that this professorship will allow us to hire more outstanding faculty who will positively impact students, just like Elburt Osborn and Rustum Roy impacted Steward Flaschen,” said Bill Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

The son of a pharmacist, Steward Flaschen grew up with a passion for science. After receiving a bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois and master of science in chemistry from Miami University, he came to Penn State as an Office of Naval Research (ONR) fellow to pursue his doctorate in mineralogy and petrology. He studied hydrothermal phase diagrams of the silica-iron and oxide-water systems under Osborn, who would later serve as dean of the College of Mineral Industries (the predecessor to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences) and vice president for research, then later served as director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines.

During his studies, Flaschen also developed close ties with Roy, who would later become a faculty member at Penn State, founded Penn State’s Materials Research Laboratory (the predecessor to today’s Materials Research Institute) and founded the Materials Research Society -- an international society that has members in 80 countries today.

"I have to tell you that my two years at Penn State was an extraordinary experience. I think Penn State's Materials [Research] Laboratory was a first of its kind, and I had this tremendous sponsorship by ONR. We did some wonderful work there, and it is still being done there at Penn State," said Flaschen in an oral history conducted by Frederik Nebeker for the IEEE History Center in Hoboken, New Jersey. 

After graduating from Penn State, Flaschen continued his research career at Bell Labs, where he developed semiconductor insulation techniques using low-melting glass material, developed new ways to synthesize the piezoelectric material barium titanate and improved the efficiency of several semiconductors. Later, working in the Semiconductor Products division of Motorola, he helped develop a process for depositing materials at the atomic scale that became the predecessor to chemical vapor deposition, a process widely used manufacturing industry today.

After five years with Motorola Semiconductor, Flaschen left to join ITT Corporation, where he would eventually oversee more than $1 billion of research funding for more than 250 companies worldwide within ITT as senior vice president and chief technical officer. He retired in 1986, and he and his wife, Joyce, started a private business consulting firm.

He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Chemists and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and he served on the board for the National Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, the National Voice Foundation and several corporations, including Telco Systems and TranSwitch.

Before his death in 2000, he had published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers and one book and was awarded more than 15 patents. He and his wife had four children.

An endowed professorship offers resources necessary to pursue new lines of research or innovative teaching methods, ensuring the stability and strength of Penn State’s academic programs and allowing Penn State to encourage new levels of achievement among its most promising faculty. Endowed faculty positions are among Penn State’s most important resources for developing and sustaining a strong faculty, and a strategic priority for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Such positions provide honor and recognition for the men and women who hold them, but they also provide something more important: a stable, dependable source of income for special teaching and research materials, library acquisitions, salary supplements and travel assistance.

Supporters like the Flaschen family are valuable partners in fulfilling the University's land-grant mission of education, research and service. Private gifts from alumni and friends enrich the experiences of students both in and out of the classroom; expand the research and teaching capacity of our faculty; enhance the University's ability to recruit and retain top students and faculty; and help to ensure that students from every economic background have access to a Penn State education. The University's colleges and campuses are now enlisting the support of alumni and friends to advance a range of unit-specific initiatives. 

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Last Updated February 03, 2016