Pol Duwez

California Institute of Technology

December 11, 1907 - December 31, 1984

Scientific Discipline: Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1972)

Pol Duwez was one of the world’s leading scientists in the fields of material science, engineering, and metallurgy.  One of his important discoveries was conducted with T. von Karman during World War II.  They investigated the propagation of plastic deformation in solids, a crucial concept in the construction of bomb resistant structures.  Another of his notable findings was the stabilization of zirconia, an important high-temperature material and solid state electrolyte that underwent drastic phase transformations.  However, his most important contribution was the development of his “splat cooling” technique.  This process demonstrated that liquid metal alloys (or compounds with the appropriate compositions) can be obtained as glasses, or super-cooled liquids, through rapid quenching.  This produced a new class of alloy materials that had unrivaled strength and magnetizing abilities.  These alloys were previously unattainable in a stable form under slower rates of solidification.  A major breakthrough for metallurgy, this technique has brought many nonequlibrium alloy phases (amorphous phases, new crystalline phases, and super-saturated solid solutions) into existence, and it allowed for further investigation of the physical properties and theories of these new alloys.  Although “splat cooling” was his defining discovery, Duwez conducted other innovative studies including x-ray structures, powder metallurgy, titanium alloys, ceramics and high-temperature oxides, and solar furnace developments.

Duwez, a Belgian immigrant, earned his degree in metallurgical engineering from the School of Mines in Mons, Belgium in 1932.  He then went on to receive his D.Sc. in physics and mathematics from the University of Brussels in 1933.  After receiving his degrees, he came to America to begin research at the California Institute of Technology (CIT) in 1933.  In 1935, he returned to Belgium as the research associate and technical director for the National Laboratory for Silicate Research at the School of Mines, and he stayed there for six years (two as a professor).  He returned to CIT in 1941 as a research engineer.  In 1944, he became the head of the materials section of the college’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and held the position for ten years.  During this time, he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and in 1952, he became a full professor of materials science.  Duwez received several awards for his metallurgical contributions: the Charles B. Dudley Award from the American Society for Testing Materials in 1951, the Champion H. Mathewson Gold Medal from the Metallurgical Society (AIME) in 1966, and the Francis J. Clamer Medal from the Franklin Institute in 1968. 

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