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The first materials science course taught at Johns Hopkins, “Materials of Construction,” became a required course for all engineering students a short time after the engineering school was opened in 1913. Professors A.G. Christie and W. Kouwenhoven took turns teaching “Materials of Construction.”

In the 1940s, Professor Kouwenhoven became Dean of Engineering and Professor Christie became Chairman of Mechanical Engineering. “Materials of Construction” was then taught by Frank Kouwenhoven, the Dean’s brother. In 1946, a new instructor named Larry Diran took over the course, which had been renamed “Materials of Engineering.” Diran only taught for one semester before leaving the university, and Professor Robert B. Pond took over responsibilities for teaching the course in the second semester.

The end of the 1940s saw a surge in enrollment at the University from returning veterans. Professor Pond’s course was extremely popular, sometimes teaching nearly 300 students. Ridgley Warfield was hired to help run the required labs for the course, though he would soon leave to become Director of the Institute of Cooperative Research. In September 1950, Dr. Robert Maddin, a graduate of Yale, arrived to assist with running the labs.

The 1950s were a time of growth for the materials group: Dr. N. K. Chen from Yale and Dr. Karl Aust from the University of Toronto arrived between 1950 and 1952. The four man faculty–Pond, Maddin, Chen, and Aust–was joined by John H. Hoke of the Rustless Division of ARMCO Steel. At this time, core groups of materials scientists often resided within mechanical engineering departments, and Johns Hopkins University was no different. However, JHU was already distinguishing its efforts in materials science, as during this time innovations such as Pond’s melt spinning for rapid cooling of materials into ribbons (including the first amorphous metals), were made.

Unfortunately, the materials science effort at JHU almost disappeared by the end of the decade. In 1956, Dr. Maddin left Hopkins to replace Bob Brick as Head of the Metallurgy Department at the University of Pennsylvania. John Hoke received his doctorate and moved into industry, and Dr. Aust took a position with General Electric. Dr. Chen went to China through a brief stay with Westinghouse. The departure of these men marked a low period of activity for the materials group.

Luckily, the materials science effort at JHU picked up again in the 1960s following the arrivals of Dr. Robert Green and Dr. Fitzgerald, experts in the non-destructive evaluation of materials, i.e., techniques to look for flaws in materials that might lead to their failure over time. This specialization helped the materials effort at JHU to gain recognition. The University was listed among the schools offering Materials Science and/or Metallurgy, and graduates of the University’s materials science group were moving through industry, government, and educational institutions. Their presence bolstered the school’s reputation as a home of vital and excellent research and education in Materials Science, and in 1963, the Department of Mechanics changed its name to the Department of Mechanics and Materials Science.

Continued advancements and a growing recognition throughout the 1970s led Robert Pond, now Chairman of the Department of Mechanics and Materials Science, to send a proposal to Dr. Richard Longaker, Provost of Johns Hopkins University, for establishment of a separate Department of Materials Science and Engineering. In his proposal, dated April 15, 1977, Professor Pond noted several reasons for establishing a separate department, including the growing reputation of the materials group and its graduates. A true distinct department took a few years. In 1979, Mechanical Engineering formed a separate department, and the materials science effort became part of the new Department of Civil Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering.

The combined department would only last for a few years. Finally, on July 1, 1983, a separate Department of Materials Science and Engineering was established. At its establishment, the department had five full-time faculty and an international reputation based on the research of Professors Pond and Green. Shortly afterward, in 1984, Prof. Green established the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation (CNDE). Green, then the outgoing chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said of the CNDE, “The main goal of our center is to train students in nondestructive evaluation at the graduate level, preparing them for work in industry, government laboratories, or academia.”

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering received accreditation in 1985, and, as we say, the rest is history. Some of the highlights of the Department’s success over the years include:

  • The joint conservation program with the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation Analytical Laboratory: Established in 1987 and ending in the mid-1990s, the program allowed students interested in conservation science to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees by studying the deterioration of art objects and evaluating existing treatment procedures or developing new methods.
  • The establishment of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT): Launched in May 2006 as a joint effort between the Whiting School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. INBT focuses on integrated nano- and biotechnology research, education, and outreach. Professor Peter Searson of the Department of Materials Science served as the director of INBT from 2006 to 2016. MSE Professor Hai-Quan Mao is the current director of INBT.
  • Growth in research funding: From 1998 to 2013, the Department received a $5 million increase in research funding, from $2 million to nearly $7 million.

Today, US News & World Report ranks Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering as #9 worldwide for Metallurgy and Materials. The Department currently enrolls approximately 70 students and 20 post-doctoral scholars and is home to 14 tenured or tenure-track faculty. Since 2006, the Department has graduated 33 PhD students, who have continued their work in private, public, and academic sectors.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is committed to bringing together students and faculty with diverse interests to address urgent technological needs, particularly in the areas of biomaterials, nanomaterials, organic semiconductors, metallic glasses, materials characterization, and thin films.

The history of our department would not be complete without the stories of our faculty, students, and alumni. We hope that those who have the had opportunity to work and learn within our department will share their insights and memories. Please send submissions to [email protected].