by Eileen De Guire

Richard “Dick” Bradt, right, receives ACerS highest honor, Distinguished Life Member, from President Bill Lee in 2017.

Richard “Dick” Carl Bradt, 1938–2019

Isaac Newton borrowed a quote from Bernard of Chartres when he famously said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Richard “Dick” Carl Bradt was such a giant in our field, and his shoulders are dense with former students, colleagues, and clients. Sadly, The American Ceramic Society lost an esteemed member when Bradt died on Jan. 3, 2019, at the age of 80.

Bradt grew up in the small town of Mascoutah, Ill., not far from St. Louis, Mo. The young Bradt went to MIT for his undergraduate education in metallurgy and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in materials engineering.

On graduation, Bradt began a long career as a professor, holding positions at Pennsylvania State University, University of Washington, University of Nevada-Reno, and University of Alabama, where he was emeritus professor. He was especially proud that three of those institutions won national football titles.

Over the years, Bradt supervised 45 Ph.D. students, 60 master’s degree students, and published more than 400 articles in 50 professional journals. He secured more than $25M from government, industry, and private sources to support fundamental research in refractories, mechanical properties, minerals and mineral processing, eutectic solidification, and more.

His work has been recognized by his colleagues around the world with many awards, including the most prestigious awards in the refractories and ceramics community. Recognition from ACerS includes Distinguished Life Member, Kingery Award, Theodore J. Planje St. Louis Section Award, Fulrath Award, John Jeppson Medal, and more. His skill as a teacher was recognized with multiple awards from the universities where he taught.

But it is not the numbers and awards that make Bradt a giant; it is the impact of his work.

“Dick Bradt was truly a mega-superstar of the refractory/ceramics community worldwide. His legacy will endure for decades,” says long-time colleague and friend, Charles Semler of Semler Materials Services.

Bradt’s research and expertise permeates through the global refractories industry. His research on work-of-fracture, R-curve, thermal shock, grain-sizing, fractography, etc., has been, and continues to be, invaluable for the refractories industry.

“Numerous companies have designed and developed refractory products based on the data and guidelines established by Dick,” Semler says. “One guideline Dick frequently stated, which was pertinent to the design of refractories was ‘Stronger is not always better.’”

Bradt’s work took him all over the globe—to Japan, Brazil, Chile, Germany, England, and more. As his international perspective grew, he saw the need for the global refractories community to have a forum for exchanging ideas and building a global network. In 1987, Bradt and Japanese colleague, T. Hayashi, worked with four international organizations—ACerS; Technical Association of Refractories (TARJ), Japan; Latin American Association of Refractory Manufacturers (ALAFAR); and the German Refractories Association (GRA)—to organize the Unified International Technical Conference on Refractories (UNITECR). Held every two years since 1989, the conference brings together 700 engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from all parts of the globe. UNITECR quickly became the leading conference for the global refractories industry. Bradt and Hiyashi were honored for their vision when they were named the first Distinguished Life Members of UNITECR at its inaugural conference in 1989.

UNITECR 2013 banquet in Victoria, Canada. Back row (left–right): Darlene Semler, Jim Houseman, Beverly Houseman, Gene Dixon, Barbara Dixon. Seated (left–right): Charlie Semler, Elizabeth Bradt, Dick Bradt.

Bradt was well aware of his stature in the refractory and ceramics community and leveraged his influence to the greater good. After “retirement,” he continued to consult globally and provide expert witness. He shared his vast knowledge by teaching short courses through ACerS on mechanical properties with his friend and colleague George Quinn. He alerted the community to the dangers of thermally strengthened glass baking dishes with an article in the September 2012 ACerS Bulletin. The rigor of his science prevailed against a vigorous lawsuit that followed. His motivation for the article was simple—he wanted to protect people from harm.

Besides research and teaching, Bradt’s interest in minerals led him to become an avid collector of museum-quality specimens. Semler reports his friend has “the world’s best and largest collection of perfect, size-graded pyrite (FeS2) cubes” from Navajun, Spain. Bradt also enjoyed growing trees from seed—a testimony to a mind that understood the importance of the long view.

He will be missed by those with whom he worked, but his legacy lives on in his students, colleagues, and clients. They will continue to reap the benefits of Dick Bradt’s broad shoulders indefinitely.

Bradt is survived by Elizabeth, his wife of 58 years, two daughters, Meredith and Claire, and three grandsons.