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Friday, 24 April 2009

Materials Matter™ and Material Matters™ II_Dedicated to the late Professor John Edwin (Jack) Harris MBE, FRS, FREng, FIMMM, Friend and Mentor

Dedication to a friend and mentor.

Jack Harris, the regular Materials World columnist, presents his views on topical issues under the heading Materials Matter. The journal has recently announced, "the sad news that Jack Harris, Fellow of the Institute (FIMMM) died in February 2009. There will therefore be no Materials Matters columns for the time being. A full obituary for Jack will appear in due course in Materials World. "

Jack, Prof. John Edwin Harris, MBE, FRS, FREng, FIMMM to give him his full title, was a true friend, in that he gave me much needed encouragement to pursue my contribution to my profession as a metallurgist, materials scientist and engineer and my involvement with our professional Institute, The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). He encouraged me, and certainly many others, to get involved and to write. His column and contact led me to write again in english, after many years in France. I was honoured that he found time to exchange correspondence, giving a reference or again an opinion, often simply adding an (s) to make a word plural "for many... more, growth, inclusiveness?" At the time he was Editor in Chief of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews(ISR) the influential Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining Journal, "that seeks to publish to the highest excellence in scholarship but that also speak to an audience of intelligent non-specialists. ISR focuses, whenever possible, on conceptual bridge-building and collaborative research that nevertheless respect disciplinary variation. " This is a timely reminder of the interdisciplinary nature of our subject, it's science, art and practice. He introduced me to some of his friends, shining examples and role models to follow, some for their skills as scientists, scholars and writers, others for their courageous professional and life choices engaging in such militant associations such as Pugwash, originated by concerned scientist and citizens in 1955. Pugwash, named after the town of the same name in Nova Scotia, Canada, aims to discourage the use of instruments of mass destruction the organisation Jack chose to devote much of his energy. These examples an more, encouraged me to write regularly, not only my web pages but several full papers, and book reviews the latter on behalf of the Institute (IOM3). His column, Materials Matter, in Materials World was the first page I turned to, upon receiving my members journal in the post each month.

-My last exchange with Jack was via the open comment through his column "Comparing nuclear power in France and England" and more specifically picking up his pointer on renewable energy Bureaucracy spawns chaotic energy policy', by Sir William Lithgow, The Times, 8 October 2008.
- Jack's last column corresponded with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin 150th anniversary of the publication "On the Origin of Species", published after Darwin's death. These "letters" are excellent examples of the breadth and depth of Jack Harris' culture, his grasp of the human angle, sense of balance and of mankind's place in the "heavenly chorus". But in the end Jack always respects his contract recalling that "materials do matter", under-scoring the family ties between the great Biologist Darwin, the richness of a life in research, and the famous Materials -Pottery and Ceramics Company, Wedgwood and the humble workmen to whom [yet another] new museum is "dedicated to the people who have made objects of great beauty from the soil"...

Jack easily grasped the inherent weakness of policies of modern dis-industrialisation with it's accompanying reduction in intellectual R&D capital, and social dishevel and often expressed his displeasure. He, as all engineers and most scientists know full-well, that the physical laws of nature can be combined in complex and ingenious ways, but that the laws of physics cannot be altered, that all human economy is based-upon man's use of energy to transform naturally occurring materials into useful products and services, for "Materials Matter", and "Energy is the common denominator in the transformation processes. Jack's professional life involved Materials for use in Energy Generation for the Central Energy Board (Berkeley Labs). Today there is a new IOM3 journal dedicated to theses disciplines entitled "Energy Materials".

For me Materials Matter™, in spite of Jack's passing away, will in my mind remain his trade mark, ™, a difficult act and to follow.

Jack's lead continues after his death. He once advised me, in a quiet way, that a good place to start an enquiry was via the Royal Society and her members. While writing this and thanks to the Internet, I paid a new visit to both Royal Societies of which Jack was a member, The Royal Academy of Engineering, FREng, and The Royal Society FR. and our Royal Chartered Institute-IOM3 (FIMMM). My current interest being in media assisted learning, I was more than well recompensed. Both The Academy and The Royal Society propose rich media materials, Web TV, lectures and conferences which I viewed with Real Player, (Microsoft viewer was also available.) via the following links:
-The Royal Academy of Engineering Media Website TV and Video.
-The Royal Society Media Website TV and Video.
Jack was elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1987 and a year later to the Royal Society.

Let me end with this quote from Lord Rees, (FRS) current president of the Royal Society, who described John Edwin Harris (Jack) as "a fine example of the 'activist' and socially concerned scientist. We need more like him."

A fuller tribute has been given by his friend Dr. Frank Duckworth and published in the Guardian.

PS. I hope that Jack would have approved of this conversation, but more especially that his family, his friends, colleagues and peers will approve of my personal tribute and small contribution to keep Jack's memory and guidance alive for the benefit of younger generations, generations of scientists, engineers and writers.

Here too, Jack had anticipated the need for a worthy legacy for younger generations when, with the late D.R.F. West DSc, FIM he co-authored the book "Metals and the Royal Society"
Published by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. Their short encyclopedia, almost 800 pages, is a historical and technical account of the important contributions made by members, Fellows of the Royal Societies, in the Metals field which comprises 80% of the elements in the periodic table, through the disciplines of Metallurgy, Materials Science, Technology and Engineering. Their book is an excellent, reliable review of scientific discovery and technical and industrial developments as well as short biographical references to the Fellows and Foreign Members. It contains most useful, rapid access indexes and valuable appendices to all RS awards, medals and lectures and multiple cross references. A full peer review of the Metals and the Royal Society was written by the late Prof. Robert W. Cahn (FRS) .

Published also in a shorter form in The Materials Chemists:
Post I.
Post II.

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