National Academy of Engineering, Volume 25
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PublisherNational Academies Press
ReleasedMarch 1, 2023
Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 25

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  • JULIA R. WEERTMAN 1926-2018


    JULIA ANN RANDALL WEERTMAN was born February 10, 1926, in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Winslow and Louise Neumeister Randall. When she died July 31, 2018, at age 92 in Evanston, Illinois, she was the Walter P. Murphy Professor Emerita of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. Her life and career were marked by numerous firsts.

    As a youngster, Julia was interested in airplanes. In her words: “When I was in junior high school I was enthralled with airplanes. Airplanes were more exotic back then than the buses of the sky that they are now. I chose to study science and math to become an aeronautical engineer.”1 Instead, she enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and majored in physics at the encouragement of Frederick Seitz (NAS 1951). She was the first woman undergraduate in the College of Engineering and Science at CIT and received her BS (1945), MS (1947), and DSc (1951) from that institution. Her thesis publication, joint with Immanuel Estermann, was titled “Specific Heat of Germanium Between 20°K and 200°K.”

    Julia met Johannes Weertman (NAE 1976) during her first year of graduate school; she was a teaching assistant for a physics class in which he was a student. They married on Julia’s 24th birthday and, after a week’s honeymoon in New York, finished their theses and spent 1951–52 in Paris, where Julia was a Rotary International Fellow at the École Normale Supérieure.

    After the fellowship, she began work as a solid state physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, where Hans was already employed. Julia was a successful “walk-in” applicant to NRL when they arrived. In the late 1950s her NRL career ended when she gave birth to the first of their two children; thus began the period of her life later noted on her resume as “raising family.” Hans accepted a position at Northwestern in 1959 and the family moved to Evanston.

    Even when she was not formally employed, Julia’s interest in the field did not wane. She collaborated with Hans on some of his work, and in the early 1960s, with him and Morris Fine (NAE 1973), coedited the Macmillan Series on Materials Science based on graduate courses offered at Northwestern University (NU). The Weertmans’ book Elementary Dislocation Theory (Collier-Macmillan Ltd., 1964) was included in the series, subsequently translated into three other languages, and republished in 1992 by Oxford University Press. It remained in use in NU’s MSE classes into the 21st century.

    By the early 1970s the Weertman children had reached their teenage years and it was time for Julia to end her “raising family” period. In 1972 she was appointed “visiting” assistant professor in the NU Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department and the next year invited to join the faculty formally, the start of her 45-year career there. She was NU’s first female materials science professor. (It is believed that she was the third female MSE faculty member in the United States, following Della Roy [NAE 1987] of Penn State and Doris Kuhlman-Wilsdorf [NAE 1994] of UVA.)

    She established a research program on deformation and creep of metals and alloys and the effects of very high temperatures on the fatigue and failure of pure metals and alloys. She investigated the structural effects of such deformation at high heat using small-angle neutron scattering (SANS). Her pioneering use of SANS techniques to study cavitation and damage during the deformation of metals yielded a new view of cavitation, providing information about the size and shape of micrometer-sized cavities in a nondestructive manner.

    She contributed substantially to understanding of boundary interactions, mechanical properties, basic deformation pro- cesses, and failure mechanisms in a variety of materials, from nanocrystalline metals to high-temperature structural alloys— she studied the former long before “nano” became a popular area in materials science. She also examined the mechanical behavior of materials where grain boundaries determine their strength and deformation characteristics.

    Julia’s interests in materials broadened to include highcycle fatigue and, with Hans and several faculty from various departments, she participated in the NSF-funded Fatigue Thrust Group at Northwestern. This group was responsible for much of the fundamental understanding that led to life-time prediction used in aircraft today.

    In 1987 she was promoted to chair of the department, a position she held until 1992. According to Northwestern, Julia was the first woman in the country to chair a university materials science department. During her tenure the number of mate- rials science undergraduate students more than doubled, and she recruited two new female faculty members.

    Julia was a mentor and role model to female graduate students and faculty not just at Northwestern but throughout the materials community.3 She believed that scientists have a responsibility to improve society, and actively worked on women’s issues and advocated for women in all walks of life. Further exercising her responsibility as a global scientist, she wrote letters on behalf of persecuted scientists overseas. She spoke at other universities and national meetings and published extensively about issues of diversity. Her leadership was recognized by the Society of Women Engineers, which bestowed on her its Distinguished Engineering Educator Award (1989) and Achievement Award (1991). She also received two Special Creativity Awards for Research from the National Science Foundation.

    Other honors include induction into the National Academy of Engineering in 1988; the TMS Leadership Award (1996); Von Hippel Award (2003)—she was the first woman to win this highest honor of the Materials Research Society; and Gold Medal (2005) of ASM International. She was selected for the TMS Institute of Metals/Robert Mehl Lecture in 2006 and was the ASM/TMS Distinguished Lecturer in 2012. The American Association of Engineering Societies awarded her the 2014 John Fritz Medal for her role in the understanding of materials and for inspiring women to pursue careers in science. She was a fellow of ASM International, the Neutron Society of America, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the first woman named a fellow by TMS-AIME.

    In 2014 the MSE Department at Northwestern established the Johannes and Julia Randall Weertman Graduate Fellowship in honor of the couple’s contributions to materials science and to the university. In 2017 TMS renamed its TMS Educator Award the TMS Julia and Johannes Weertman Educator Award for an individual who has made outstanding contributions to education in metallurgical engineering and/ or materials science and engineering. The award website notes that “Drs. Julia and Johannes Weertman have accomplished, both individually and jointly, a very rare feat: (a) they rose to prominence in materials science and engineering through their pioneering research accomplishments which have profound effects on technology; (b) they were instrumental in the emergence of materials science and engineering as a new discipline; [and] (c) as a couple, they developed a rare synergy, a unique phenomenon in our field and an example for the younger generations.”

    Julia’s professional activities included serving on the Neutron Scattering Facilities Review Committee of the Department of Energy’s Council on Materials Science (1985–87), National Steering Committee for an Advanced Steady-State Neutron Source (1986–92), TMS Board of Directors (1990–93), Materials Research Society Board of Directors (2001–07), and TME Long-Range Planning Committee (1988–93, chair 1990–93).

    She also served on quite a few National Academies committees, including—in keeping with her personal dedication—the Committee on Human Rights of the NAS, NAE, and NAM (1994–2000); Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (1995–2005); Celebration of Women in Engineering Organizing Committee (1997–99); and Committee on a Guide for Recruiting and Advancing Women in Science and Engineering Careers in Academia (2002–06). In addition, she was appointed to the Condensed Matter and Materials Research Committee (1990–97; vice chair, 1992–93; chair, 1993–95); Solid State Sciences Committee (1990–97; chair, 1993–95); Committee on Microgravity Research (1991–94); National Materials and Manufacturing Board (1999–2004); and Committee on Assessing the Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics Database (2004–08). For the NAE she served on the Council (1996–2002) and Materials Engineering Section Peer Committee (1993–96; vice chair, 1994–95; chair, 1995–96).

    In her 2012 profile on the NAE’s EngineerGirl website, she wrote, “I can’t imagine wanting any career other than engineering. My advice to young women who are considering engineering as a major involves the usual clichés, but they are nonetheless valid: Work hard and try to be the very best, keep your sense of humor active, and don’t take yourself too seri- ously. Stick with top-notch people. And most of all, enjoy what you do.”

    Julia enjoyed gardening, traveling, jazz, border collies, and collecting southwestern Pueblo and Hopi pottery. She is remembered as a dedicated teacher, pioneering researcher, valued colleague, and friend, a woman of warmth and inspiration who made seminal contributions to her field.

    Hans died October 13, 2018. They are survived by daughter Julia (Nicholas Zerebny), son Bruce (Leslie Miller), and a grandson.

    1 From her profile on the NAE’s EngineerGirl website (https://www.
    2 Journal of Chemical Physics 20(6):972 (1952); doi/10.1063/1.1700659.
    3 Julia’s influence on generations of students is described in a 2019 tribute published in MRS Bulletin 44:221–22, available at https://link. 

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