NEWS RELEASE, 05/13/98
Metals expert Earl Parker, National Medal of Science
recipient and retired UC Berkeley faculty member, is dead at 85
By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
BERKELEY -- Earl Randall Parker, a retired University of California, Berkeley, professor of metallurgy, an expert on steels and a holder of the National Medal of Science, died Saturday, May 9, at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento. He was 85.
Parker, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a professor emeritus of materials science and mineral engineering at the UC Berkeley, had an impact on many areas of metallurgy.
"He was one of the grand old men of metallurgy, particularly steel technology," said Robert O. Ritchie, a professor of materials science and mineral engineering at UC Berkeley who was one of Parker's last postdoctoral students in 1974. "But he had an influence on all aspects of materials science."
One of his most significant contributions was pinpointing a major problem with the steel used to build the Liberty Ships churned out in World War II to carry supplies in support of the war effort. Many ended up breaking in half because cracks in the welded steel would propagate completely through the ship. In 1944 Parker discovered why, and suggested a way to fix it.
Parker conducted pioneering studies on how internal defects or dislocations change the properties of materials. Basic research in this area has permitted the development of high-strength materials with superior resistance to fracture and suitable for use in advanced engineering applications.
Based on their new understanding of metal structure, Parker and UC Berkeley colleague Victor F. Zackay developed in the 1960s so-called TRIP (Transformation Induced Plasticity) steels, which had unprecedented strength and toughness, that is, resistance to fracture. Though this demonstrated that steels could be both strong and ductile, TRIP steels eventually proved too expensive and too difficult to machine.
In his later years, Parker shifted to a study of ceramics.
Parker's influence on the field of metallurgy was mirrored at UC Berkeley, where he significantly bolstered research in the metallurgy department in the 1950s and '60s. He chaired the department of Mineral Technology twice, from 1953 to 1957 and from 1965 to 1966.
"He was one of the giants of the department and was really responsible for the department getting heavily involved in research," said Douglas Fuerstenau, professor of materials science and mineral engineering at UC Berkeley.
Parker also was instrumental in lobbying the Department of Energy to formulate a research program in materials science at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Now called the Materials Science Division, it is one of the most prominent centers of materials science research in the world.
He has received numerous awards for his work, including the 1980 National Medal of Science, the country's highest honor for a scientist. He also was named California Scientist of the Year in 1970 and received the Gold Medal Award of the American Society for Metals in 1972, the Robert F. Mehl Gold Medal of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), and the Gold Medal of the American Society for Engineering Education.
He was a fellow of the American Society for Metals (ASM), the American Physical Society and the AIME, and he served as president of the ASM in 1967.
Parker also was known as a wonderful teacher and mentor and received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1972 from the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. Upon his retirement in 1978 he was awarded the Berkeley Citation, the highest honor the Berkeley campus can bestow.
Born in Denver on Nov. 22, 1912, Parker received his degree in metallurgical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in 1935, then worked as a research engineer for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. In 1944 he came to UC Berkeley, and over his 34-year career he oversaw nearly 100 PhD dissertations and MS theses.
Parker is survived by his wife, Agnes of Sacramento, Calif.; a daughter, Margaret Sullivan of Fair Oaks, Calif.; a son, William Parker of Southern California; and three grandchildren.
Remembrances may be made to the Hanna Boys Center, P. O. Box 100, Sonoma, CA 95476.
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