Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 17
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  • Y. AUSTIN CHANG 1932–2011


    PROFESSOR YONG-SHAN AUSTIN CHANG, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a guiding force in alloy thermodynamics, died on August 2, 2011, at the age of 78.

    Chang was born in Goon village, Henan province, China, where he grew up during the Second Sino-Japanese War. For a time he lived in a cave with his illiterate mother, a simple stove, and no electricity. Her hiding him in a local school house may well have protected him from kidnapping for forced military service. His education was interrupted frequently by the difficulties of the time. From these humble beginnings and with resolute determination and creativity, he grew into an international leader in the field of alloy thermodynamics.

    Chang traveled to the United States in 1950 to pursue postsecondary education, initially as a foreign student at Baylor University and subsequently as an engineering student at the University of California at Berkeley. He earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from UC–Berkeley and the University of Washington at Seattle, respectively, and a PhD in metallurgy from UC– Berkeley in 1963.

    He was employed as a senior engineer at Aerojet General Corporation in Sacramento, California, before beginning his academic career at the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee in 1967. He served as department chair from 1971 to 1977 and as associate dean for research from 1978 to 1980, all the while building an outstanding reputation in research and in education. He joined the Department of Metallurgical and Mineral Engineering at UW–Madison in 1980.

    As department chair from 1982 to 1991, he guided research and education programs toward the current comprehensive offerings across the broad spectrum of the materials field and through the department’s renaming to Materials Science and Engineering. Although he officially retired in 2006, he pursued his professional passions—research, research education, mentoring of junior faculty, and department leadership—until his death.

    Chang’s scholarship is known globally for its exceptionally high rigor and reliability and its focus on technologically important alloy systems. His peers characterize his approach as an astute integration of fundamental science with a keen sense of technological relevance. He is credited with advancing key innovations on important problems that few others attempted to tackle with comparable depth and originality. His contributions in metallurgical thermodynamics and phase equilibria have had immense impact in materials science, materials engineering, physical metallurgy, and chemical engineering.

    With his fundamental science approach he advanced the understanding and applications of a variety of materials including structural materials (Al-alloys, Mg-alloys, and Ni-based superalloys), compound semiconductors, magnetic materials, and materials for applications in energy technologies. His international stature in the profession was recognized by his induction into the National Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Academia Sinica (Taiwan), and by numerous research, education, leadership, and career awards from the University of Wisconsin and the professional societies of his field.

    In addition to his stellar scholarship, Chang was an outstanding teacher and educator. His accomplishments as a teacher and mentor have been recognized by his peers and colleagues both at the University of Wisconsin and nationally through many awards, most recently though the TMS Educator Award and the Albert Easton White Distinguished Teacher Award of ASM International.

    However, the true, deep, and lasting impacts of his teaching and mentorship of students are much more vividly articulated in the respect, gratitude, and love expressed in the memories shared by his students in his memorial guest book. Many of these students hold high positions in industry or are recognized leaders in academia at institutions around the world. Their comments were truly inspiring to those Austin left behind.

    Chang served the University of Wisconsin and the materials profession with distinction throughout his career as a member of many university and professional committees. He was an active member of the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS) and ASM International (formerly the American Society for Metals), from which he received a number of prestigious awards in recognition of his research, teaching, and professional service. Most recently he was recognized by the TMS Leadership Award in 2011.

    Based on computer programming codes that gained him international recognition, he founded CompuTherm LLC, a Madison-based company that develops powerful, user-friendly computer software and an alloy database for thermodynamic calculations. Upon his retirement, he and his wife P. Jean Chang generously endowed a chair in the UW Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

    Chang’s family—Pi-Ying Jean Chang, his wife; his sons Vincent D., Lawrence D., and Theodore D.; his daughters- in-law Suzanne and Diana; his grandchildren Kristina, Jing Chang, Brian, Alyssa, Steven, and Michael; his brothers Douglas and Raymond; his sisters Wan-Ru and Ai-Ling; and his many nieces and nephews—were always first and foremost in his thoughts and his actions. Austin and Jean enjoyed their life together for almost 55 years.

    They enjoyed many walks, sunsets, scenic places, and musical programs together. They travelled extensively to many countries on several continents. Since 1980 Austin brought Jean back to visit his birthplace, Goon village, and paid homage to his ancestors twice. In 2010 he published his last text book, Materials Thermodynamics (Wiley Series on Processing of Engineering Materials; John Wiley & Sons). He dedicated this book to his honorable mother, Shu-Ying, and his beloved wife, Jean.

    Austin Chang will be remembered and admired as the best in the academic tradition. He was a brilliant, creative, productive, and entrepreneurial scholar who took upon himself a significant and continuous presence in the classroom and a magnanimous role in service to the University of Wisconsin, the State of Wisconsin, and the materials profession. One of his highly respected competitors once described him as “without question, the most gracious, generous, and unselfish superstar I know.” His wisdom, leadership, and grace will be sorely missed by his colleagues in Wisconsin and around the world.

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