Sheldon (Shelley) Wiederhorn, Distinguished Life Member and ACerS Fellow, passed from this life on June 3, 2021, at the age of 88.

Wiederhorn grew up in Bronx, N.Y., the son of immigrants. He earned his B.S. in chemical engineering from Columbia University in 1956, where he was a member of the men’s swim team. By 1960 he had earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His first job was with E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co. where his research interests turned towards the study of the mechanical behavior of ceramic materials. After three years, he joined the National Bureau of Standards, now National Institute of Standards and Technology, to lead research on the mechanical behavior of glasses and ceramic materials. He stayed at NIST for the rest of his working and emeritus career, comprising a tenure of more than 50 years.

NIST colleague Brian Lawn, says, “Shelley was an extraordinary human being.  He was larger than life.  Beloved by his colleagues and friends, he had the kind of outgoing personality that was simply impossible to dislike.  His huge smile said it all.”

Wiederhorn is best known for the experiments he developed to characterize subcritical crack growth in glasses and the influence of water on crack propagation. These studies illustrated the complexity of subcritical crack growth resulting from chemical reactions between water and stressed bonds at the tips of small cracks in glass, the phenomenon of stress corrosion cracking. The work was published in his 1970 paper, “Stress Corrosion and Static Fatigue of Glass,” [1] with L.H. Bolz and is considered one of the most important papers in the glass literature corpus, earning more than 1,000 citations during his lifetime.

But, his work went far beyond slow crack growth in glasses.  “He was famous for reliability analyses in general, extending them to structural ceramics such as silicon nitride and silicon carbide.  This included direct tension creep rupture testing with extraordinary microstructural analyses by Nancy Tighe and Bernard Hockey,” according to George Quinn, also a NIST colleague.

“His work stimulated the use of fracture mechanics in the field of ceramics. At the time, that discipline was being invented by scientists interested in brittle fracture of materials.  Shelley picked up on it and applied fracture mechanics principles to estimate reliability of brittle materials, and that methodology is still in use today,” says Arthur Heuer, Distinguished University Professor, emeritus, at Case Western Reserve University.

As a research scientist, Wiederhorn mentored many junior colleagues over the course of his long career. Twice he attempted managerial roles, but “disliked those intensely and freely acknowledged that he had no administrative bones in his body,” says Lawn. He preferred to keep his undivided focus on research.

Wiederhorn joined ACerS in 1960 and belonged to the Basic Science, Engineering Ceramics, and Glass and Optical Materials Divisions. He served 15 years as editor of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society on the ACerS board of directors 2005-2008. He was elevated to ACerS Fellow in 1970 and was recognized by the Society’s members with the Ross Coffin Purdy Award (1971), Jeppson Award (1994), and Edward Orton, Jr. Memorial Lecture (2013). In 1998 the Society bestowed its highest honor of Distinguished Life Member.

Other honors include election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1991 and the World Academy of Ceramics in 2010. He was recognized by NIST and the U.S. Department of Commerce with numerous awards. Wiederhorn was a lifelong swimmer, which helped offset his lifelong love of ice cream.

“Shelley was so generous with his ideas, his time and his praise for others. He was a delight to be around, whether talking about science, museums, books, or family,” recalls Katherine Faber, ACerS past president and Simon Ramo Professor of Materials Science at Caltech.

At Wiederhorn’s memorial service, his daughter noted that a star emits light long after it dies. The star that was Shelley Wiederhorn will illuminate the way for glass and ceramic scientists for generations to come. The Society has made a donation in his memory to the Ceramic & Glass Industry Foundation to help the next generation be inspired and guided by his example. Wiederhorn is survived by a son and daughter and their families.

[1] Stress Corrosion and Static Fatigue of Glass, S.M. Wiederhorn and L.H. Bolz, J. Am. Ceram. Soc., 1970, Vol. 52, No. 10, pp. 543-548. ( Accessed June 8, 2021