In Memoriam

The Materials Science Department pays tribute to the members who are no longer with us, and who have helped build and shape the Department into what it is today.

Morris E. Fine

Morris E. Fine, the Walter P. Murphy Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering and Technological Institute Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering, passed away Oct. 1, 2015 at age 97.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1954, Fine came with a range of experiences that included work with the Manhattan Project in Chicago and Los Alamos and later with Bell Labs in New Jersey. Along with Northwestern colleague Don Whitmore, Fine co-created the University’s Department of Metallurgy and became its first chair. As new faculty members joined, the department broadened its scope to include ceramics, polymers, and electronic materials. The new profile inspired a new name: in 1958, the world’s first-ever Department of Materials Science was born.

“Morrie was at the very foundation of the history of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a major contributor to the excellent reputation it has today,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “He cofounded a department that was ahead of its time and dedicated his life to its success. Though Morrie retired before many of our current faculty joined Northwestern, he remained an active, engaged, and highly respected member of our community.”

Although he received his PhD in metallurgy from the University of Minnesota in 1943, his interests expanded well beyond metals. He explored everything from physical chemistry to mechanical behavior and enjoyed studying alloys, ceramics, and composite materials. His 1964 book Introduction to Phase Transformations in Condensed Systems remains a classic text in the field.

“The scientific principles in his work are still in vogue and now being applied to newer fields, such as bio-nano-materials,” said Michael Bedzyk, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “Our department, including faculty, students, and alumni, is forever grateful to Morrie for his leadership, inspirational teaching, kindness, and sense of community.”

Fine was well known for bridging the divide between basic research and practical, industrial application. In 1965, he embarked on a fundamental study of steels containing copper, which led to the development of improved steels. Fine and colleague Semyon Vaynman joined federal committees to convince standards-setting bodies to accept NUCu and persuaded bridge owners and designers on its advantages. Sold on this exciting new material, the Illinois Department of Transportation used NUCu steel in 2000 to retrofit the Poplar Street Bridge Complex over the Mississippi River in East St. Louis and in 2006 to construct the north Milwaukee Avenue Bridge in Lake Villa.

Although he retired from Northwestern in 1988, Fine continued to be an active member of the community until his final days. In 2009, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering created the Morris E. Fine Lecture to celebrate his life and contributions.

Fine will be remembered as an inspiring mentor, selfless collaborator, and valued friend. For all of his life’s successes which included being a member of the National Academy of Engineering, he experienced the most pride in his students and the 70 PhD students he advised throughout his career. He was eager to share his knowledge with the next generation of scientists and learn from their experiences and insights. During a 2012 interview with The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, Fine said: “Each of the 70 students that I advised through their PhD was a highlight for me.”

As per his wishes, Fine was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts alongside his wife Mildred (Glazer) Fine, who passed away in 2004. (Read more in McCormick news)