Dr. Peter E. D. Morgan, born in India, raised in Dover, England, later becoming a leading contributor to the field of advanced ceramics, has died in Bakersfield, CA in late August, 2021 at age of 85.  Peter was known as an eccentric and brilliant chemist, having made major contributions in such diverse areas as ceramics processing, radioactive-waste immobilization, and high-temperature oxide composites.  Peter was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1984.

Peter obtained his PhD in chemistry from Imperial College and was a post doc at Cornell University before taking a position at the Franklin Research Institute in Philadelphia.  However, the bulk of his career was spent at the Rockwell International Science Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where he made most of his contributions to ceramic science. He was a persuasive proponent throughout his career of chemical methods for producing compositionally and microstructurally uniform ceramics before “better ceramics through chemistry” was in vogue, an approach he exploited for over 45 years from his first papers in 1973 to his most recent. He was the intellectual leader at Rockwell of a large project to immobilize defense nuclear waste and demonstrated the versatility of the solution chemistry approach to create a high-alumina, four-phase ceramic with each phase tailored to incorporate into solid solution within their crystal structures specific elements, including the radionuclides and actinides. These materials exhibit superior resistance to dissolution in water than the glass form, eventually adopted by the DOE. Amongst the papers from this work was one that received the Best Paper Award from the Nuclear Division in 1981.

From this work, Peter became infatuated by two oxides, the muratatites and the monazites. He was still working on the former at the end of his life, refining the structure of one of the largest-volume inorganic mixed-oxide unit-supercell structures known.  The latter led him to the next stage of his career when he proposed using monazite as the weak interface coating for oxide fibers in an oxide matrix, necessary to impart toughness through fiber pull-out.  Peter’s style was perhaps best demonstrated with his discovery of monazite as a weak interface for alumina/alumina composites.  When confronted with the problem of what might be a suitable candidate interface coating, he drew on his wide-ranging knowledge of mineral stability and compatibility in geological environments, crystal structures studied for nuclear waste containment, and other crystal chemistry considerations to propose candidate compounds.  Monazite (lanthanum phosphate) was on his short list, a compound that, surprisingly in hindsight, had received very little attention in the ceramics field.  Next, Peter noted unusual bond arrangements in monazite, and using simple bond valence arguments (Paulings second crystal rule) he conjectured that there would be weak bonding between monazite and alumina.  That proved to be true, thereby stimulating world-wide activity on this and related materials.  Subsequent years of research, at Rockwell and UC Irvine, involved learning how to synthesize monazite to form the required thin coating on alumina fibers to make a tough composite, as well as studies of other RE phosphates with dopants such as strontium as proton conductors.

Over his career, Peter applied what he called simple chemistry to benefit the field of ceramic science.  He was happy to spar with colleagues at conferences and take the time to educate graduate students at UC Irvine and in Japan, where he also spent a lot of time in his “retirement”.  Peter was equally happy to discuss the scientific method, the history of science, the “minimalist lifestyle”, mineralogy, crystal structures, the latest news and opera. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, music, and art. Although he made major, lasting contributions to ceramic science, it is possible he was most proud of the opera he directed while still at Cornell!

Rishi Raj

Peter Morgan: The human being and the scientist.

I remember most our wanderings
His sandals and his cowboy gait
Swinging his arms
To Denny’s in Thousand Oaks
And in Japan sitting next to a pond
Covered with lilies.
There was some deep conversation
About life and death.

He smiled
As if He understood
The simplicity of a complex world
Because he lived it

Not often we broke into laughter
Sharing some absurdity of life.

That smile said it all.