Cyril Stanley Smith Dies at 88


Dr. Cyril Stanley Smith, 88, a world renowned metallurgist and historian of metallurgy, died of cancer August 25 at his home in Cambridge.

Dr. Smith was a retired faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught from 1961 until his retirement in 1969. His three titles there reflected the facets of his rich and varied career in science, technology, history and the arts.

He was an Institute Professor Emeritus, a title reserved for only a few whose work transcends the boundaries of traditional departments and disciplines.

As professor emeritus of the history of science and technology he was recognized as an authority on the historical relationships between people from the beginning of human history and the materials they came to understand and use. Professor Smith was a pioneer in the application of materials science and engineering to the study of archaeological artifacts.

As professor emeritus of metallurgy, he was renowned for his research in physical metallurgy, particularly in areas such as the role of interface energy and topology in the structure of polycrystalline materials and the application of metallography to the study of artifacts.

Professor Smith's important contributions to the nature of structure in inorganic matter began with the application of simple topology to the shapes of metal grains and then, bu extension, to all levels of the structural hierarchy. Eventually his work included exploration of the structures, on different scales, underlying patterns in both art and science.

Professor Smith was born in Birmingham, England, in 1903. He received the B.Sc. degree in metallurgy from the University of Birmingham in 1924 and the Sc.D. degree from MIT in 1926.

From 1927 until 1942 he was a research metallurgist at the American Brass Company, where he received some 20 patents and contributed numerous papers to technical publications. His research was focused on the electrical and thermal conductivity, and the mechanical and magnetic properties of copper alloys.

After brief service with the War Metallurgy Committee in Washington, Dr. Smith joined the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos where he directed the preparation of the fissionable metal for the atomic bomb and other materials for nuclear experiments. He received the Presidential Medal for Merit for this work in 1946.

He joined the University of Chicago in 1946 where he became the founder and first director of the Institute for the Study of Metals, the first interdisciplinary research organization dealing with materials in the United States. It was, he said, "a natural outgrowth of the close association of metallurgists with chemists and physicists on the Manhattan Project."

AT MIT Professor Smith designed his joint appointment in the Departments of Metallurgy and Humanities to "encourage the understanding of human history and human activity through the scientific investigation of the material record of the past." He used the methods of the materials engineer to explore the technologies behind the production of art and archaeological artifacts.

The Laboratory for Research on Arhcaeological Materials which Dr. Smith established at MIT in 1967 led to the founding 10 years later of the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, a consortium of eight Boston area universities and museums devoted to research and graduate education in this new field.

Professor Smith was named by President Truman as one of the original nine members of the general advisory committee to the Atomic Energy Commission. He also served on the Committee on Science and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences, the President's Science Advisory Committee and the Smithsonian Council.

He was the first chairman of the board of governors of Acta Metallurgica, a leading international journal, and a member of the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He was also a member of the American delegation to the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955.

Professor Smith's view that the decorative arts, especially ceramics and metals, led to scientists' understanding of the properties of materials is explained in From Art to Science, (MIT Press, 1980). The book was an outgrowth of a 1978 exhibit he arranged for the Smithsonian and MIT.

His other books include A History of Metallography: The Development of Ideas on the Structure of Metals to 1890, Sources for the History of the Science of Steel, and A Search for Structure. He was co-editor of a number of translations of classic works and author of some 200 papers for scholarly journals

Dr. Smith received the Francis J. Clamer Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1952, the 1961 Pfizer Medal from the History of Science Society and the 1961 Gold Medal of the American Society of Metals. In 1963 he received the Douglas Medal from the AIME, the third time that society had chosen him for an award. He received the Leonard da Vinci Medal from the Society for the History of Technology in 1966, the Platinum Medal of the Institute of Metals in 1970. His memberships included the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Academie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, the American Society for Metals the History of Science Society, the Society for the History of Technology, the Iron and Steel Institute, and the Newcomen Society. He was also an honorary member of the Institute of Metals, Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Indian Institute of Metals and the Japan Institute of Metals.

In 1991 Professor Smith received the Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics for "pioneering the use of solid state physics in the study of ancient art and artifacts to reconstruct their cultural, historical and technological significance." The Cyril Stanley Smith Memorial Fund has been established at MIT to foster studies relating ancient and contemporary art and science in the materials field. Memorial gifts may be made to this fund or to Hospice of Cambridge.

Professor Smith is survived by his wife of 60 years, Alice Kimball Smith, dean emerita of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe; a daughter Anne Smith Denman, chair of the Department of Anthropology at Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Wash.; a son, Stuart Marchant Smith, a marine geologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.; a sister, Mary Smith of Sutton Coldfield, England, and four grandchildren.

A memorial service for Professor Smith will be held at MIT in the fall.

A version of this
article appeared in the
September 2, 1992

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
37, Number
4).


Topics: Obituaries

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