Materials science pioneer honored

March 21, 2012

R_Colin_Johnson-March 21, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore.—The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientist responsible for major paradigm shifts that have repeatedly redefined modern materials science, American scientist John Werner Cahn, recently received the Kyoto Prize in advanced technologies in San Diego.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Cahn immigrated to the U.S., where he made his first paradigm-shifting discovery at General Electric's research lab (Schenectady, N.Y.), solving a long-standing problem in metallurgy with John Hilliard. The resulting Cahn-Hilliard Equation enabled designers to specify the properties required of a metal, then calculate the methods needed to create it. Before this paradigm shift metallurgical breakthroughs required long trial-and-error methodology.

Cahn became a materials science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1964, then joined the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in 1977. In 1982, together with Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman, Cahn again contributed a paradigm-shifting contribution to materials science by authoring the seminal paper on quasicrystals, a promising new material that is still a hot semiconductor research topic today because of its novel low-temperature conductivity properties.

Cahn was honored in Japan on Nov. 9, 2011, receiving a 20-karat-gold medallion and $625,000. The ceremony and gala is being repeated this week for the U.S. audience, March 20-22, in San Diego.


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