Howard K. Birnbaum

2002 Von Hippel - Howard K. Birnbaum

Howard K. Birnbaum, University of Illinois

2002 Von Hippel Award Recipient

"Through innovative use of a wide range of novel experimental tools, Howard K.Birnbaum has made seminal contributions to our understanding of intrinsic point defects, hydrogen in metals, and grain boundary segregation, especially as these effects relate to mechanical properties. He has also stimulated, directed, and influenced interdisciplinary research throughout the materials community." 

Howard K. Birnbaum attended Columbia University (B.S., 1953, and M.S., 1955), then studied with Professor Tom Read at the University of Illinois (Ph.D. in metallurgy, 1958). He taught at the University of Chicago as an instructor and then as an assistant professor in the Institute for the Study of Metals. In 1961, he returned to the University of Illinois as an associate professor and was promoted to a full professor in 1963. His tenure at the University of Chicago Institute of Metals (the first interdisciplinary materials laboratory) and the University of Illinois' Materials Research Laboratory taught him the great promise of the interdisciplinary approach to research. After teaching in the field of materials science, he became the director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory in 1987 and served in that capacity until 1999. Birnbaum retired to an emeritus status in 1999.

Birnbaum's career, spanning the period in which the several fields of science and engineering coalesced into the new field of materials science, was devoted to teaching, research, and the support of interdisciplinary materials science. He worked with about 40 Ph.D. graduate students and 20 research associates in a number of research areas including defects in solids, deformation and fracture, hydrogen diffusion and hydrogen behavior in materials and is the author of many publications in these fields.

Recognition for his work includes membership in the National Academy of Engineering, fellowship status in the American Physical Society, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, American Society of Metals, National Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Talk Presentation Abstract: "Hydrogen Effects on Deformation and Fracture, The Science and Sociology"

The effects of solute hydrogen on the behavior of dislocations and on the fracture of solids have been studied in a large number of systems. One of the motivations for these studies is the long-standing engineering problem of "hydrogen embitterment." A general understanding of the mechanisms of this ubiquitous environmental fracture is now available and will be discussed. Three fracture mechanisms have been established; a) stress-induced hydride formation and cleavage, b) hydrogen enhanced localized plasticity, and c) decohesion. These mechanisms operate in different systems and in many cases failure occurs by different mechanisms in a single materials system when tested under different conditions. One difficulty in establishing this understanding was the tendency of the community to search for, and believe in, a single mechanism that could be applied to all of the observations. Establishment of this understanding required investigation of many aspects of the behavior of hydrogen in multiple systems. It was possible only because of the continued research support over a period of about 25 years ­ a continuation of support that does not appear to be possible under the present policies of funding agencies.

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