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July 9th, 2009

Robert Newnham (1929-2009)

Published on July 9th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Robert Newnham, 80, of State College, Pennsylvania, a resident of
Foxdale Village, died at Penn State Hershey Medical Center on April 16,
2009. He was born March 28, 1929, in Amsterdam, New York, the son of
the late William E. and Dorothy M. Hamm Newnham.

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On July 26, 1964, Newnham married Patricia Friss Newnham, a
beautiful nurse from E. Hartford, Connecticut, who survives. The two
had two children: a son, Randall E. Newnham of Reading, Pennsylvania,
and a daughter, Rosemary E. Newnham of New York City. They survive,
along with Randall’s wife Janet Graden, and a grandson – Johnathan
Robert Newnham, and Rosemary’s husband Patrick Ying. His sister Mary
Lucy Carlson, her husband Rupert, numerous nieces and nephews and their
families also survive.

A graduate of four universities, Newnham studied mathematics at
Hartwick College (B.S., 1950), physics at Colorado State University
(M.S., 1952), physics and mineralogy at Penn State (Ph.D., 1956) and
crystallography at Cambridge University (Ph.D., 1960). Prior to joining
the Penn State faculty in 1966, he was an I.C.I. Fellow at the
Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University and taught in the
Electrical Engineering Department of M.I.T. for 10 years.

At Penn State, Newnham taught courses on Crystal Physics, Crystal
Chemistry, Electroceramics, Mineralogy, Gem Minerals, Biomaterials,
X-ray Diffraction, and Crystal Structure Analysis. Widely known for his
enthusiastic lectures and colorful illustrations, Newnham was honored
with the Outstanding Educator Award of the Ceramic Education Council,
and the Wilson Teaching Prize of the College of Earth and Mineral
Sciences. During his career, he delivered the Dow Lectures at
Northwestern University, the Wolff Lecture at M.I.T., the McMahon
Lecture at Alfred University, the Pond Lectures at Johns Hopkins, the
Maddin Lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Byron Short
Lecture at the University of Texas. After retirement, Newnham taught
for two years at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Georgia
Institute of Technology.

Newnham was active in several professional societies serving as Editor of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society,
secretary of the Materials Research Society, president of the American
Crystallographic Association, and Distinguished Lecturer for the
Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Among his many awards
was the Jeppson Medal, the E.C. Henry Award, the Bleininger Award, the
David Kingery Award of the American Ceramic Society, the third
Millennium Medal and Ultrasonics Achievement Award of the IEEE, the
Centennial Award of the Japan Ceramics Society, the Turnbull Lecturer
Award of the Materials Research Society, the Adaptive Structures Prize
of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Benjamin Franklin
Medal for Electrical Engineering from the Franklin Institute, and the
Basic Research Award of the World Academy of Ceramics.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Newnham wrote five
books, more that 500 research papers and 20 patents on electroceramics
and composite materials for electronic and acoustic applications. The
composite piezoelectric transducers developed in his laboratory
revolutionized the quality of ultrasound images in cardiology,
obstetrics, and underwater sonar. Every major ultrasonics manufacturer
in the world including several in central Pennsylvania use composite
transducers based on his designs. His miniature flextensional
transducers for hydrophone towed arrays is one Penn State’s most
successful patents. They are widely used in underwater oil explorations
and geophysical research.

During the past forty years, Newnham and his long-time colleague
Eric Cross, built up one of the largest ferroelectrics research
programs in the world. Together, they pioneered a number of new
piezoelectric and electrostrictive materials for use as sensors,
actuators, and capacitors. They were the first to carry out a complete
classification of primary and secondary ferroics with examples of each.

He retired from Penn State in 1999 as Alcoa Professor Emeritus after
serving eight years as associate director of the Materials Research
Laboratory and 18 years as director of the Intercollege Program on
Solid State Science. Newnham  is remembered with great love by friends,
former students and scientific colleagues around the globe.

In private life, Newnham was an unabashed liberal in politics and
religion. He and his wife, Pat, were strong supporters of the peace
movement, the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Centre County, and
numerous liberal charities. In his spare time, he was an ardent mineral
collector and model airplane builder, and loved the smell of airplane

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