Professor Emeritus Johannes Weertman Passes Away

Weertman was an expert on the fatigue and fracture of materials

Johannes Weertman, Walter P. Murphy Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, passed away at age 93 on October 13. He will be remembered as a pioneering researcher, devoted teacher, and esteemed colleague and friend.

During more than four decades of research and scholarship, Weertman made several noteworthy contributions to the study of the mechanical properties of materials, particularly to the fatigue and fracture of metals, the high-temperature creep of crystalline solids, and dislocation theory.

After serving three years in the United States Marine Corps, Weertman attended the College of Science and Engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his bachelor’s and DSc degrees in physics. Following graduation, he worked at the US Naval Research Laboratory, where he applied his interest in geophysics to the study of glacier flow and ice sheets. His research contributions were honored by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-names Committee, which established “Weertman Island” in 1960, a 3.5-mile-long island off of the Antarctic coast.

Julia and Johannes WeertmanWeertman joined Northwestern in 1959 as an associate professor within the newly formed Department of Materials Science. He taught materials science courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and served as chair of the department from 1964-68.

Weertman’s continued research into dislocations — atomic-scale defects in materials — led to his 1964 textbook, Elementary Dislocation Theory (Reprint, Oxford University Press, 1992), which he co-authored with his late wife, Professor Emerita Julia Randall Weertman. The work stands as the first book written specifically for undergraduate students on dislocation theory, an important factor in the study of fracture mechanics.

“Hans was a quiet man with a powerful intellect whose work had a profound impact on both geology and materials science and engineering,” said Peter Voorhees, Frank C. Engelhart Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “His unfailing good cheer and sharp insights into the mechanical properties of materials will be greatly missed.”

Weertman also held a joint appointment in Northwestern’s geological sciences department, now the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where he continued his interest in glaciology, studying the migration of subglacial lakes under ice sheets.

Weertman’s career has been marked by several accolades. In 2014, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering established the Johannes and Julia Randall Weertman Graduate Fellowship in honor of the couple’s impactful contributions to materials science and to Northwestern. In 2017, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) renamed its TMS Educator Award to the TMS Julia and Johannes Weertman Educator Award, celebrating an individual who has made outstanding contributions to education in metallurgical engineering and/or materials science and engineering.

His other honors include membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the National Academy of Engineering. He received the International Glaciological Society’s Seligman Crystal, the Acta Metallurgica Gold Medal, the Champion H. Mathewson Gold Medal, the American Geophysical Union’s Robert E. Horton Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fulbright Fellowship. He was a fellow of the Geological Society of America, ASM International, American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, TMS, and the American Academy of Mechanics.

Weertman is survived by his daughter Julia (Nicholas Zerebny); son Bruce (Leslie Miller); and grandson Willem. He was preceded in death by wife Julia Weertman, and grandson Johannes Weertman.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering will host the Johannes and Julia R. Weertman Symposium and Remembrance on Friday, November 16 at Guild Lounge on the Evanston campus.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 17 at Alice Millar Chapel, followed by a reception at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Orrington Hotel. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Field Museum.