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NIST's Materials Science and Engineering Division (MSED) Centennial

This timeline was created in 2014 to celebrate the rich history and accomplishments of Materials Science and Engineering Division, including 100 years of the Metallurgy Division and 50 years of the Polymers Division.

A Timeline of Significant MSED Achievements


1913 – 1923: Train Derailments

train derailmentsIdentification of metallurgical causes involved in the 41,578 train derailments in the U.S. during 1902-1912. Resulting improvements in steel quality reduced derailments by 66%.


1913 – 1923: George K. Burgess, Metallurgy Division ChiefGeorge K. Burgess

Burgess also served as the second Director of the National Bureau of Standards , 1923 – 1932. Burgess' portrait is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1919: Theory of Precipitation Hardening

1920s: Metallurgy Division scientists developed the basis of precipitation which depended on phase diagram characteristics. This initiated a "Golden Age of alloy development" in the 1920's and formed the basis for the discovery of most aerospace and high temperature alloys, including all nickel-based superalloys and all high strength aluminum and titanium alloys.


1924 – 1929: Horace W. Gillett, Metallurgy Division ChiefHorace W. Gillett

The portrait of Horace W. Gillett is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.



1929 – 1945: Henry S. Rawdon, Metallurgy Division ChiefHenry S. Rawdon

The portrait of Henry S. Rawdon is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1945 – 1956: John G. Thompson, Metallurgy Division ChiefJohn G. Thompson

The portrait of John G. Thompson is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1946: Discovery of "Electroless Nickel"Abner Brenner

A whole industry became dependent on the discovery of "electroless nickel." Abner Brenner also developed several ways to measure coating thickness, including the eddy-current thickness gauge.


1943 – 1953: Liberty Ships

Metallurgy Division scientists, as members of the Ship Fractures Investigation Board, performed measurements on hull steel from 130 failed ships. They found that Charpy notch toughness was a strong indicator of hull plate performance, a key finding of the investigation. Working with the Mechanics Section, they identified sharp corners as stress risers that initiated ship failures, which led to both structural re-designs and launched the field of fracture mechanics. Metallurgy found the initiation via fractography, mechanics derived and measured the stresses with prototype tests. More information can be found in Brittle Fractures in Ship Plates part of NBS Circular 520. A photo of a key scientist in this area, Morgan L. Williams, is included in the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1956 – 1961: James I. Hoffman, Metallurgy Division ChiefJames I. Hoffman

The portrait of James I. Hoffman is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1961 – 1966: Lawrence M. Kushner, Metallurgy Division ChiefLawrence M. Kushner

The portrait of Lawrence M. Kushner is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1967 – 1976: Elio Passaglia, Metallurgy Division ChiefElio Passaglia

The portrait of Elio Passaglia is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1967 – 1980s: Failure AnalysisFailure Analysis

Division scientists played key roles in the investigations of the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse, Alaska oil pipeline, the 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse, the1970's Ashland Oil Tank failure, and the 1983 Union Oil Refinery tank explosion. The Materials Reliability Division and Building and Fire Research Laboratory were often key collaborators.


1972: Use of NMR Leads to Development of MRINuclear Magnetic Resonance

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance is used to detect tumors in a living mammal, ultimately leading to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging.


1976 – 1979: A. William Ruff, Metallurgy Division ChiefA. William Ruff

The portrait of A. William Ruff is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.



1979 – 1982: Robert Mehrabian, Metallurgy Division ChiefA. William Ruff

The portrait of Robert Mehrabian is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.



1982 – 1985: Louis R. Testardi, Metallurgy Division ChiefLouis R. Testardi

The portrait of Louis R. Testardi is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1984: Discovery of QuasicrystalsQuasicrystals

Quasicrystals are discovered, breaking a century of known laws of crystallography.


1985 – 1995: E. Neville Pugh, Metallurgy Division ChiefE. Neville Pugh

The portrait of E. Neville Pugh is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.



1980 – 1990: Extreme Conditions - The Wide Plate Study

As part of the Heavy Section Steel Technology Program sponsored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) performed a series of crack arrest tests on large steel plates in the early 1980s. The steel specimens, supplied and fabricated by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, were first heated and cooled on the edges to establish a nearly linear temperature gradient across a 1-meter width. They were then loaded in uniaxial tension until crack propagation initiated. The wide plate crack arrest tests conducted by NBS enabled a 30-year license renewal of U.S. nuclear reactors with an estimated $500 billion savings for the Nation.


1980 – 1990: First Thin-Film High TC Superconductor by Laser-Ablation

In the early 1980s, there was much interest in preparing thin films of Tc superconductors for both fundamental research and potential applications. Laser methods for such film preparation were particularly attractive, and in a 1987 Physical Review B article, NIST researchers, along with their Johns Hopkins University collaborators, reported on what was believed to be the first results on partially superconducting thin films produced using a high-power, pulsed, excimer laser operating in the utlraviolet to ablate material off bulk samples of high-Tc superconductors. Thin-film high Tc superconductors produced by laser-ablation is now the method of choice throughout the world. See the related article by Moorjani et al.


1990 – 1999: Oxygen as SurfactantOxygen as Surfactant

In ultrahigh vacuum, O2 allows nanoscale processing with atomically smooth interfaces. GMR increases by an order of magnitude. See the related article by Egelhoff et al.


1995 – 2005: Carol A. Handwerker, Metallurgy Division ChiefCarol A. Handwerker

The portrait of Carol A. Handwerker is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1999 – 2002: Measurements and models for "Superfill"

Measurements on flat plates allow prediction of filling of nanoscale features, smashing the "red brick wall" of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, allowing computer chip interconnects to be made at an order of magnitude finer scale. See the related article by Wheeler et al.


2002 – 2005: World Trade Center Investigation

In conjunction with NIST's Building and Fire Research Lab, MSED'S Metallurgy Division investigated and forensic analysis of steel as part of the NIST Investigation of the World Trace Center Disaster of September 11, 2001. View Final Reports from the NIST Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster here.


2005 – 2013: Frank W. Gayle, Metallurgy Division ChiefFrank W. Gayle

The portrait of Frank W. Gayle is part of the Metallurgy Division Collection.


1911: Rubber Research

The decades following Charles F. Goodyear's discovery of rubber vulcanization lead to a flourishing industry in tires and rubber products. However, these rubber goods had variable properties as they were produced based on empiricism and trade secrets. Research on rubber was sparse in the U.S. and test methods were strongly needed. To address this need, the rubber section was organized at NBS in 1911.


1926: Organic and Fibrous Materials Division

Under a special congressional appropriation to investigate the "utilization of waste products from the land," the Miscellaneous Materials Division of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) was reorganized as the Organic and Fibrous Materials Division, and Warren E. Emley was brought from the NBS Pittsburgh laboratory to serve as its chief. [From: Measures for Progress by Rexmond C. Cochrane, p. 267]


1926 – 1943: Warren E. Emley, Polymers Division ChiefWarren E. Emley

The Portrait of Warren E. Emley is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1928: American Dental Association

CRADA with the ADA established (NBS-Special Publication 354, pg. 8), Thus began the numerous advances in dental adhesives, dental materials, and dental tools.


1935: Organic Plastics Section

The Army Quartermaster Corps asked NBS to investigate replacing natural materials essential military equipment with domestically available synthetic resins. The growth of plastics as a new material of commerce was recognized by the formation of the Organics Plastics Section in October 1935. NBS Circular 494, a paper summarizing the activities of the NBS relating to plastics can be found here.


1935 – 1948: Plastics Research For Airplanes

NBS research involved transparent plastics for aircraft windows and fabric-covered wings. Fabric covered wings were used on Navy carrier-based aircraft during World War II and subsequently on light civilian airplanes. An image showing a fabric covered airplane wing can be found in the Polymers Division Collection. NBS Circular 494, a paper summarizing the activities of the NBS relating to plastics can be found here


1943 – 1951: Archibald T. McPherson, Polymers Division ChiefArchibald T. McPherson

The portrait of Archibald T. McPherson is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1950: Restoring the Declaration

At the request of the Librarian of Congress in 1939, an investigation was undertaken by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) to determine the best means of preserving the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. On March 16, 1940, NBS recommended that the documents be placed in specially-constructed enclosures, that the air in the enclosures be replaced with a chemically inert gas, and that the enclosures be sealed. NBS created the enclosures which were returned to the Library of Congress in 1951. In early 1952 they were transferred from the Library of Congress to the custody of the National Archives. [From "NBS and the Constitution: An Office of Information Services Exhibit" by Karma A. Beal] NIST's Charters of Freedom Photographic Collection chronicles this research.


1951 – 1963: Gordon M. Kline, Polymers Division ChiefGordon M. Kline

The portrait of Gordon M. Kline is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1960: Polymers Division Created

In early 1962 the Organic and Fibrous Materials Division was renamed the Polymers Division due to a change in emphasis from products formed from natural polymers (cotton, wool, silk, cellulose, natural rubber) to synthetic polymers. The division remained under Gordon M. Kline, its long-time head, but along with the name change there was a major reorganization of the sections. [From: A Unique Institution by Elio Passaglia, p. 319, 424]


1960: Lauritzen-Hoffman Theory (Folded Chains)

A mean-field polymer crystallization theory that described the growth rate of polymer lamellar crystals as a lateral growth, surface-nucleation controlled process.


1963: Bernstein, Kearsley, Zapas (BKZ) Theory

A generalized nonlinear viscoelastic theory for polymers that obeyed the laws of thermodynamics that extended beyond the traditional theories of linear Viscoelasticity.


1963 – 1968: John D. Hoffman, Polymers Division ChiefJohn D. Hoffman

The Portrait of John D. Hoffman is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1966: Standard Reference Materials (SRM)

Early in 1963, the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) issued its first polymer Standard Reference Material, SRM 705, a narrow molecular weight distribution polystyrene. SRM 705, along with SRM 706, was issued to help standardize the measurement of certain macromolecular properties. Over the course of several years NBS improved the capability of measuring the molecular weights of high polymers. With the cooperation of H. W. McCormick and his group at Dow Chemical Company in Midland, it became possible to obtain in 1961 a sufficient quantity of narrowly dispersed polystyrene to justify an effort to certify molecular measurements on a polymer sample that could be issued to all scientists. It was decided that two polystyrene samples would be certified and made available through the NBS Standard Sample program, one sample with a narrow molecular weight distribution (SRM 705) and one with a broad molecular weight distribution (SRM 706). [From: Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards, 71A, pp. 43-47, 1967]


1966: Thermal Properties of Polymers

A quick, direct method for the determination of activation energy from thermogravimetric data. A publication related to this topic can be found here.


1965 – 1971: Adsorption of Polymers at a Surface

A mean-field theoretical approach to describe the behavior of polymers when adsorbed at an interface.


1968 – 1983: Ronald K. Eby, Polymers Division ChiefRonald K. Eby

The portrait of Ronald K. Eby is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1978: Sanchez-Lacomb Theory

A lattice fluid theory that proposed new equations of state for liquid systems and polymer solutions. This theory allows for the derivation of thermodynamic properties such as chemical potentials, heats of mixing, critical solution temperatures, etc. The article by Sanchez and Lacombe may be found here. A portrait of Dr. Isaac Sanchez is included in the Polymers Division Collection.


1983 – 1998: Leslie E. Smith, Polymers Division ChiefLeslie E. Smith

The portrait of Leslie E. Smith is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


1998 – 2007: Combinatorial Methods

In 2002, NIST launched an important resource for those using combinatorial approaches to characterize and develop new materials -- a collaborative research center devoted to advancing state-of-the-art methods that can rapidly accelerate the effort. The inaugural meeting for the new NIST Combinatorial Methods Center (NCMC), based at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., campus, was held on January 23, 2002. The NCMC concentrates on devising and testing emerging high-throughput approaches to investigate the chemical and physical properties, structural features, and processing requirements critical for development of promising new materials. A Retrospective Economic Impact Assessment of the NIST Combinatorial Methods Center is available here.


1998 – 2007: Low K Materials

In response to industry concerns, SEMATECH1 initiated a research program aimed at improving the quality of porous materials characterization. NIST worked under a contract for SEMATECH, and between 1998 and 2006, NIST performed characterization analyses of approximately 180 materials. NIST's contribution also included the development of a variety of novel techniques for materials characterization and the creation of objective high quality data in much larger quantity and at a much lower cost than other research groups would have provided collectively. [From: Economic Analysis of NIST's Low-k Materials Characterization Research prepared by RTI International for NIST, pp. ES-1-ED-2]. See also NIST Recommended Practice Guide, Pore Characterization in Low-k Dielectric Films using X-ray Relectivity: X-ray Porosimetry, NIST Special Publication 960-13 (2004)


1999 – 2006: Eric J. Amis, Polymers Division ChiefEric J. Amis

The portrait of Eric J. Amis is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


2003: Critical Dimension (CD) Metrology

Critical Dimension Small Angle X-ray Scattering (CD-SAXS) was developed as a precise measurement method to quantify the structure of nanoscale patterns and thin films used in the semiconductor industry.


2007 – 2012: Eric K. Lin, Polymers Division ChiefEric K. Lin

The portrait of Eric J. Lin is part of the Polymers Division Collection.


2012: Metallurgy and Polymers Divisions Merge

The Metallurgy and Polymers Divisions were merged to form the Materials Science and Engineering Division after a NIST-wide reorganization.

2014: MSED Centennial Celebration



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