Robert L. Snyder died Sept. 1, 2011, in Atlanta, Ga, after a long battle with cancer. Snyder was 70 and at the time of his death was a professor and cochair of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.
Snyder taught at Alfred University for 26 years. While he left AU in 1996, Snyder never truly “left” Alfred; he retained his ties to the faculty, to his former students, and to the University itself. “Bob Snyder was truly a legendary figure whose sense of humor was exceeded only by his scientific prowess,” said AU President Charles M. Edmondson. “I often asked Bob for guidance, and he never failed to offer it in terms that were clear, humane and wise. Alfred has lost a dear friend.”
One of the final doctoral students at Alfred University mentored by Snyder was Scott Misture ’90, who received his PhD in 1994. “Bob was really a unique person and impossible to distill to a few words,” said Misture, who is now an Inamori Professor of Materials Science in the Inamori School of Engineering. “What made Bob special? He was truly a visionary, and he had a gift for engaging people in that vision, building excitement and creating landslides of support and success — all while making close friends and enjoying life at every turn. He was everyone’s friend, and we’ll all miss him.”
“Although Bob had left AU, the year before I got here, he was a powerful force in shaping my relationships with Alfred,” said Doreen Edwards, dean of the Inamori School of Engineering. “His contribution at AU was visible years after he left. Over the past five years, as I got to know Bob through the American Ceramic Society, I have considered him an influential mentor. I will miss him greatly.”
In October 2007, Snyder made his last official appearance on the Alfred University campus, delivering the McMahon Lecture. His topic that day was “The New World of Materials Science Engineering; Nano and Bio Technology,” capturing the essence of where his research interests were focusing in recent years.
He was perhaps best known in the international materials science community for his work on the characterization of advanced materials by X-ray diffraction. He created Alfred’s first X-ray diffraction facility.
His colleagues in the International Centre Diffraction Data paid tribute to Snyder was well, posting: “… he was chairman of the Board for the ICDD from 1996-2000, as well as a board member in consecutive terms from 1986-2004. He also served as a member of the Denver X-ray Conference organizing committee and was the current chairman of that group. During his tenure in these positions Bob formed many lasting relationships with both former and current ICDD employees, ICDD members, and the international scientific community that we serve.
Snyder had “a huge number of friends, both professional and personal around the globe. He was truly a global ambassador for material science and all types of X-ray analysis. He was known around the world for his passion for life and the intensity and excellence of his science. His technical accomplishments were vast and numerous. His impact on others as a professor, administrator, teacher, mentor and friend will continue during their lives. … He will be sorely missed.”
After leaving Alfred, Snyder was chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Ohio State until 2002.
At Georgia Tech, Snyder was known for building bridges between nanotechnology, biology, medicine, chemistry, materials science and engineering throughout his career. In January 2003, Snyder joined the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech and created a new joint program with Peking University, leading to 30 new positions in advanced materials, nanotechnology and bio-enabled materials. Snyder also helped oversee the merger of MSE with the former School of Polymer, Textile and Fiber Engineering.
“As a scholar, teacher, school chair and friend, Bob was everything one would hope for in a colleague,” Georgia Tech College of Engineering Dean Gary May said. “He helped lead the School of Materials Science as it grew in numbers and stature to where it is now, recognized as one of the top programs in the nation. Bob’s leadership and commitment to engineering education will be sorely missed.”
Snyder’s research focused on the characterization of advanced materials by X-ray diffraction. He studied everything from superconductors to nanomaterials and had a hand in developing some of the first automated diffractometers, a device that is now a staple in any research laboratory.
He held eight patents, published 300 papers on materials and materials characterization and presented thousands of talks around the world with more than 50 plenary and keynote lectures. Snyder authored two textbooks, edited nine technical books and contributed chapters to nine books and encyclopedias.
“Bob was one of the most dynamic, energetic and visionary leaders I have ever interacted and collaborated with,” said Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ professor and College of Engineering Distinguished Professor, who worked with Snyder for nearly a decade. “His deep interest in science and education made extraordinary contributions to the materials program at Georgia Tech. His passing is a huge loss to the school, Georgia Tech and the international scientific community.”
“I came to Professor Snyder a curious and fresh graduate student, but under his guidance and support, the world has opened up to me, and I have developed into a scientist,” said Ken Beyerlein, Snyder’s former graduate student. “ I always went to him when I would run into a wall in my research, and he always had the uncanny ability to immediately identify and directly address the root of a problem.”
He was a Fellow of the American Society of Metals and The American Ceramic Society, and a Distinguished Fellow of the International Centre for Diffraction Data. He received The American Ceramic Society’s Outstanding Educator Award and the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. The Materials Society recognized him for his leadership in the field and as an educator.
He and Sheila, whom he married 48 years ago, raised their two children, Robert N. Snyder, who is a 1993 alumnus of AU, and Kristina Snyder Gardner, who graduated from AU in 1995, in Alfred. Snyder is also survived by two grandchildren.