Sadly, The American Ceramic Society has lost an esteemed member – John B. (Jack) Wachtman died on December 13, 2022, at the age of 94. He is predeceased by his wife Edith V. Wachtman.
Wachtman grew up in the small town of Conway, S.C., where he attended public schools in Conway. During his public-school years, Wachtman was influenced by his fascination with geometry, algebra and physics. He applied for and received a scholarship from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Wachtman received B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from Carnegie Tech and was a research and teaching assistant there from 1949-1951. Wachtman stated in his memoir that “my time at Carnegie was perhaps the highlight of my life. I loved the intellectual life and companionship of the students. The curriculum was designed to give scientists and engineers some degree of liberal arts education to the extent that this was possible.”
Wachtman joined the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)) in 1951 as a physicist in the Engineering Ceramics Division. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1961. Wachtman left NBS in 1983 and began a second career as the first director for the of the Center for Ceramic Research at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick. During his twelve years at Rutgers, Wachtman taught courses on characterization and mechanical properties of ceramics intended for seniors and incoming graduate students.
After retiring from Rutgers, Wachtman wrote books based on the courses he taught. One of these books, “Mechanical Properties of Ceramics” was published in 1996 and a revised, second edition was published in 2009 and co-authored with his Rutgers colleagues Roger Cannon and John Matthewson. These books were well received with the first book selling 500 copies in the first six months. According to George Quinn (retired, NIST), these books are by far the best and most balanced textbooks on the topic.
In 1989, Wachtman took on the part time role of technical editor for ACerS publications, a position he held for 12 years. During this time, his principal focus was on the Journal of The American Ceramic Society. In his final year as editor, he, along with ACerS staff, succeeded in putting JACerS online with a subscription system. According to Mark Mecklenborg, ACerS executive director, “Having Dr. Wachtman involved in this process was essential. His knowledge, expertise, and commitment to the Society positioned the journal for success for many years to come.”
One of Wachtman’s final contributions to ACerS was editing the “Ceramic Innovations in the 20th Century” book. This book, published in 1999, coincided with 100th anniversary of the founding of ACerS.
Wachtman collected a multitude of honors from various organizations including NBS. In his memoir, Wachtman mentioned that the most meaningful to him was the election to the International Academy of Ceramics in 1988 as well as serving as president of The American Ceramic Society (1978) and the Federation of Materials Societies (1975). He was a Distinguished Life Member and an ACerS Fellow.
Wachtman was such an inspiration to so many people that it is fitting that he ends his memoir with this closing quotation by Albert Schweitzer: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us.”
Editor’s notes: ACerS Appreciates NIST Library for sharing the “Oral History Interview of John B. Wachtman” Feb. 4, 2010, and Wachtman’s 24-page “Memories and Reflections on a Career As a Scientist-Engineer in Research Management, Teaching and Editing” 2009, revised 2010.
Wachtman was featured in the December 1999 Ceramic Bulletin (Vol. 78, No. 12), pp. 36–41 – “Profiles in Ceramics” by Kathy Woodward