Memorial Tributes: Volume 26
IsNew No

Search this Publication

  • PAUL G. SHEWMON (1930-2015)



    PAUL GRIFFITH SHEWMON, a renowned materials scientist, engineer, and educator, died at age 85 on Thanksgiving, November 26, 2015, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at his home in Columbus, Ohio. Throughout his long career, Paul played a prominent role in solving national problems and advancing academia, industry, and government.

    Paul was born to Mildred Griffith Shewmon and Joe Allen Shewmon on April 18, 1930, in Rochelle, Illinois. He grew up in Stillman Valley, a “wide place in the road,” according to Paul, with a population of 300. His father ran the grain elevator in town. The high school was so small that it could only field athletic teams if every athlete played every sport. Nonetheless, Paul ran track at the state level, once completing the mile in 4:44. His athleticism extended to a lifelong habit of biking, whether biking to work every day in the winter at 75 years old or touring 50 miles per day in Europe.

    Paul earned his BS in metallurgical engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1952. During a distinguished alumnus award ceremony there 28 years later, he noted that it was unlikely that he could be admitted under the current admission policies given his limited opportunities for childhood education. It was there that he met Dorothy Bond, who became his wife until her death on October 26, 1997. Dorothy’s job as dietician supported Paul’s education at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) until he became a faculty member there after completing MS and PhD degrees in metallurgical engineering in 1954 and 1955, respectively. All of Paul and Dorothy’s children, Andrew Bond Shewmon, Joan Elizabeth Shewmon, and David Allen Shewmon, were born in Pittsburgh.

    From 1955 to 1958, Paul worked as a research engineer with the well-known solid-state physicist Clarence Zener (NAS 1959) in the Metal Physics Group at Westinghouse Research Laboratory and began a long collaboration with William Mullins (NAS 1984). He returned to Carnegie Mellon in 1958, attaining the rank of full professor in 1965, reportedly becoming the youngest full professor in the history of the department. He was a National Science Foundation Fellow during the 1963–64 academic year at the University of Göttingen.

    Paul joined Argonne National Labs in 1967 and served in various positions, including associate director for the Engineering and Metallurgy Division and director of the Materials Science Division. Under his leadership, within a few years the metallurgy team became recognized as one of the strongest in the field. Unique facilities for simulating radiation damage using accelerators combined with high-voltage electron microscopy were developed. Large improvements were achieved in the fuel efficiency of Argonne’s EBR-II experimental fast reactor. In 1973, he left Argonne to become director of the Division of Materials Research at the National Science Foundation.

    Paul joined the faculty at Ohio State University in 1975 and served as chair of the Department of Metallurgical Engineering from 1976 to 1983. During this time he performed a variety of sponsored research, including projects on hydrogen embrittlement and coal gasification processes. In 1977, he was appointed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, which he served on for the remainder of his career.

    In addition to his numerous insightful and highly cited research publications, which even in 2021 continued to be cited 60 times per year, Paul’s accomplishments were recognized with a number of awards and honors. In 1959 he received the Alfred E. Noble Prize of the American Society of Civil Engineers for a technical paper of exceptional merit for an author under 35 years old. The next year he received the Rossiter W. Raymond Memorial Award of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) for the best paper published by AIME where the author is a member under 35 years of age. Later, in 1977, he was awarded the Henry Marion Howe Medal from the American Society for Metals and, in 1983, the AIME Champion H. Mathewson Award. In 1998 he received the Institute of Metals/Robert Franklin Mehl Award from the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS).

    Besides his society awards Paul’s work was recognized by election as a fellow of the ASM, the TMS, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Paul received the prestigious Forschungspreise from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which enabled him to spend 1983 at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany.

    Paul was the author of two texts, Transformations in Metals (McGraw-Hill, 1969) and Diffusion in Solids (McGraw-Hill, 1963), which are classics in the field and are held in high regard by generations of metallurgy undergraduate and graduate students for their concise and practical treatments of abstruse subjects. Paul’s passion for educating students is reflected in his belief that, although researchers can make contributions through their new discoveries, they can accomplish more by imparting their knowledge to their students. He is quoted as stating, “I am proud of my research, but the texts that I have written have really had more of an impact on the field than any work that I have done.”

    His demand for clarity, conciseness, and precision produced some of the most penetrating technical questions ever raised in public presentations. Fred Kocks (NAE 1999) remembers Paul, who was his boss at Argonne, as often demanding that Fred “explain this in a way that my mother-in-law can understand!” A simple raise of his hand struck terror into hapless graduate students, not to mention a fair number of colleagues. His excitement about new technical insights often led to middle-of-the-night calls to sleeping colleagues to discuss or share in the wonder.

    Paul’s passion for science, engineering, and education and his rare joy in clarity, precision, and simplicity will be missed.