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August 30th, 2010

Rustum Roy, 1924-2010

Published on August 30th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org


I just received the sad news that one of the legends of materials science and of science, in general, Rustum Roy, passed away last week. Although he was a stellar researcher, he considered himself to be a citizen-scientist and urged his colleagues to deeply consider how science, society, art and education can interact in productive and nonproductive ways.

It is difficult to summarize Roy’s influence on the world of science, let alone just the fields of ceramics and glass. He held five professorships: three at Pennsylvania State University, one at Arizona State University and one at the University of Arizona. He was a 32-year member of the National Academy of Engineering, with the rare distinction also of having been elected to the National Academies of Science/Engineering of Russia, Japan, Sweden and India.

In 2003, the Institute for Scientific Information ranked Penn State’s Materials Research Laboratory, which he founded in 1962 and directed for a quarter century, first in the world on the basis of the number of highly cited scientists in the lab.

Roy left a permanent mark on the materials field, starting with its most fundamental base: phase diagrams and crystal chemistry. His discovery and championing of a new materials processing method — the sol–gel process — has been utilized (not only cited) in over 50,000 papers. His work in hydrothermal reaction, microwave processing, nucleation in glass, radioactive wastes, nanocomposites and superconductors have also left a permanent legacy.

Roy became a Fellow of The American Ceramic Society in 1961 and elevated to Distinguished Life Member in 1993. He had also sponsored one of the most anticipated annual lectures of ACerS: The Frontiers of Science Rustum Roy Lecture series that has been a fixture of the Society’s Annual Meetings.

Roy authored or coauthored hundreds of papers, founded and edited numerous newsletters and journals in materials science and engineering education. One of his recent papers appeared in the first issue of ACerS’ new International Journal of Applied Glass Science, “Glass Science and Glassmaking: A Personal Perspective,” [ed. note – this paper is available at no cost] and represents something of a tour de force of his career:

“This paper demonstrates how glass has provided one of the earliest, and still rare, examples of controlled use of science at the nanolevel in a well-established gigatechnology. The glass community – from the Venetian glass makers (and the science of luminaries such as Michael Faraday and Isaac Newton) down through major industrial successes such as glass-ceramics – are examples of excellent nanoengineers practicing clever applications of manipulation of matter at the nano and subnano scale. This paper describes the evolution of the understanding of nanoheterogeneity of the structure (and composition of virtually all useful glasses) that has been the key evolutionary ‘invention’ in this process. It then makes the case that glass (and polymer) technology has an enormous advantage over all of the nanomaterial technologies that are confronted with the enormous barrier of assembling large numbers of very small particles into useful products on a large scale, as recognized by the recently anointed patron saint of the present nanofever, Richard Feynman, in his only paper in the field. Finally, this paper introduces glass scientists to a radically new opportunity via a totally new way to convert crystalline matter into glasses (noncrystalline solids)-for all scientists interested in the glassy state.”

Roy also chaired the Science Advisory Committee of the Friends of Health, a nonprofit group that examines a range of disruptive innovations in human healing based on materials science and physics.

In an obituary on Penn State’s website, one of Roy’s colleagues, Carlo Pantano, had this to say:

“Rustum Roy made a difference for the field of materials science and for Penn State. He had a tremendous publication record extending back 60 years that people still refer to in their research. At every step of the way he seemed to be ahead of the curve, in research as well as in the way he managed the scientific enterprise. He was well-known to be an enthusiastic and provocative lecturer by students and colleagues alike. His crystal chemistry course was on every graduate student’s course list, in addition to numerous special topics courses he created in concert with the latest and hottest research topics in materials science.”

Roy was interested in science policy as much as science, itself, and he served as a science policy fellow at the Brookings Institution from 1982 to 1983 and was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., from 1980 to 1985.

He was also a lay preacher and served on the board of the National Council of Churches and helped found the Sycamore Community church.

Finally, it is important to note Roy’s long-time marriage to fellow materials scientist Della Martin Roy, another legendary figure in the world of material science and policy.

Here is Roy’s formal obituary from the Centre Daily Times:

Rustum Roy, 86, of State College, died Thursday, August 26, 2010 at Foxdale Village.

Born on July 3, 1924, in Ranchi, India, he was the seventh child of the late Narendra Kumar and Rajkumari Roy. On June 8, 1948, he married Della Martin, who survives.

Also surviving are three children, Neill R. Roy and his wife, Evelina Francis, of State College, Jeremy R. Roy and his wife, Lydia, of Arlington, Tex., and Ronnen A. Roy and his wife, Sinaly, of Bethesda, Md.; two grandchildren, Simone and Naren; a brother, Prodipto Roy of India, and a sister Ioni Dipti Sisodia of Georgia; and by numerous nieces and nephews.

He received B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Patna University and received his Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University.

He was associated with Penn State for sixty-five years as a graduate student and faculty member. At Penn State he held positions as Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State, as Professor of S.T.S., and as Professor of Geochemistry. He also was a Distinguished Professor of Materials at Arizona State University, and a Visiting Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona. He was appointed and served for 23 years as the first director of an independent interdisciplinary Materials Research Laboratory in the U.S. He was elected to numerous national and international scientific academies including the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. He co-founded the pioneering nterdisciplinary scientific society – the Materials Research Society- and continued to advance the boundaries of science and technology up to the present, including seminal research in the emerging field of water science, as well as resonance effects in condensed matter.

An outstanding aspect of his life was his capacity and dedication to breaking artificial boundaries in order to integrate science, religion, education, health, art and social action for human benefit. As an eight year old, in his parent’s house he met Gandhi, who discussed with his father how personal change was more effective for human advancement than technological change. Professor Roy’s solution in life was to pursue both.

He was very active in ecumenical religious life for over 60 years and co-founded the interdenominational Sycamore Community. His insight into the world’s main religions led him to work to break down the boundaries between Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions. He served on the Executive Committee of the National Council of Churches, was a leader in the Kirkridge retreat center, and was the friend and colleague of many religious leaders including Bishop John Robinson, John Shelby Spong, Prof. Harvey Cox, Sister Joan Chittister and Reverend Gordon Cosby. He was also invited by the Pope to the Vatican committee regarding the rehabilitation of Galileo.

He was a champion of interdisciplinary K-12 schooling and was the driving force behind creation of the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology and Society. He served as Science Advisor to a number of successive Pennsylvania Governors and chaired for many years the Science and Society Sector of President Mikhail Gorbachev’s State of the World forum.

Professor Roy became a champion of integrative medicine, resulting in alliances with pioneering figures including Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, B.M. Hegde, Marc Newkirk, Patrick Flanagan, Hans Peter Duerr, Vladimir Voeikov, and Yan Xin, with the purpose of bringing advances in the art and science of whole person healing to the wider public. He was founder and sponsor of Friends of Health, served as co-chair of the Chopra Foundation, and hosted a live Internet talk radio show on VoiceAmerica.com.

He was also a long time promoter of art and the field of art and science, and was responsible for bringing the works of artists, such as Barbara Hepworth, Max Bill, and Fredrick Franck, to the University.


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9 Responses to Rustum Roy, 1924-2010

  1. Dr. (Ravi) Ravichandran says:

    I am deeply grieved to learn about the sad demise of Prof. Rustum Roy. I was shocked to hear the news. I worked for Prof. Roy as a Post-Doc close to 4 years. He always tells me “Ravi” learn everything. This really helped me a lot in my life. Prof. Roy is the one who brought me to USA and gave me good life. I came from India with just 2 bags. Now that I have everything in my life except Prof. Roy. My wife, with two kids and I sending our heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family.

  2. Joe says:

    I am saddened to read of this. I knew Dr. Roy only briefly, but think often of his lectures and out-of-class discussions. I was student of his at Arizona State (introductory physics), and my father knew him from many years before at Penn State. It was an honor to learn from someone held in such high regard in the scientific and academic community.

  3. Dr. Bala Vaidhyanathan says:

    Felt extremely sorry to hear the sad demise of Prof. Rustum Roy. What a significant loss to the scientific community. He is one of a kind. His moto of pursuing ‘Application Driven Science’ is a radically refreshing way of integrting social responsibility into innovative thinking. It was a honour to work with him for nearly 3 years at Penn State. His unwavering passion, drive and enthusiasm for the development of science & technology that is relevant to society have left a lasting legacy with many researchers like myself across the globe.

    My hearfelt condolences to Mrs. Della Roy and the family members. May the blessed soul rest in peace.


  4. Santosh Upadhyay says:

    It is very sad that we have lost a dynamic figure in the field of ceramics!

  5. Chunming says:


  6. Dr Garth Tayler says:

    I was saddened to learn of the loss of this great man.
    I was privileged to meet Rustom Roy at Penn State several years ago. We had an interesting exchange about the great potential of hybrid microwave firing of ceramic materials and the technology transfer challenges involved. Rustom Roy’s insights and his enthusiasm about this field of research was an inspiration to me. It was an honor to have met him.

  7. Ted Lilley says:

    Rustom Roy, was one of a kind. A radical scientist, a believer in technology, a critical thinker, in fact an intellectual. How many materials scientist fit that description?
    His contributions to the field are well known and we have access to his important papers. However, what we lack today are spokesmen for science and technology and they have never been needed more. How often do you see one on television, the font of wisdom in our current world? Rustom was rare in daring to address social issues and science policy. He will be missed by many.
    Ted Lilley

  8. Ramkumar says:

    Great Loss to the Material Science Community. I had an Opportunity to Interact with him before 3 yrs.. that’z a Fruitful moment..

  9. A Udayakumar says:

    It is a an interesting recall about the citizen scientist

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