2007 Distinguished Lecture Series: Dennis W. Readey

History of Ceramic Engineering by Someone Who Has Been There for About Half of It


Dennis ReadeyDr. Dennis W. Readey is University Emeritus Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering retiring in 2006. He joined Mines in 1989 as the Herman F. Coors Distinguished Professor of Ceramic Engineering and was head of the Colorado Center for Advanced Ceramics.

He holds a BS in Metallurgical Engineering from Notre Dame and Sc.D. in Ceramic Engineering from the MIT. His prior experience included: chairman of ceramic engineering, Ohio State University, 1977-89; program manager, U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (DOE), 1974-77; principal scientist and materials laboratory manager, Raytheon Company, 1967-74; group leader, Argonne National Laboratory, 1964-67; and captain, U.S. Army, Harry Diamond Laboratories, 1962-64.

His research includes: high temperature gas and aqueous corrosion of ceramics, reactive atmospheres and sintering, materials of controlled porosities, dielectric and transport properties, and the preparation and properties of metal-ceramic composites. He collaborated with Professor John Moore of MME on combustion synthesis and with Dr. David Ginley at NREL on thin films for solar cells and batteries. Mines research supported by NSF, NASA, NREL, DOE, CoorsTek, and Compaq led to 22 MS and 12 PhD degrees. Ohio State research led to 19 MS and 12 PhD degrees funded by NSF, ONR, AROD, DOE, Alcoa, and the Orton Ceramic Foundation. Dr. Readey has been active in the American Ceramic Society for 48 years and was Society Treasurer, Vice President and President. He received the Society’s Jeppson, Purdy, and Educator of the Year awards and was its Sosman Lecturer in 2002. He is a fellow and a Distinguished Life Member. He is also a fellow of ASM International and served on the Board of Directors of TMS. He is also a member of ASEE, AAAS, MRS, and Sigma Xi.

He was an ABET evaluator for over 20 years for both ceramics and materials programs, represented TMS on the Engineering Accreditation Commission, served as their ABET trainer, and currently represents TMS on the ABET Board. He has served on the National Materials Advisory Board, the Space Studies Board, and the NIST Materials Research Advisory Committee of the National Academy of Sciences. He was a member of the Universities Space Research Association Materials Working Group, Materials Advisory Committee for NSF, Engineering Review Group for the Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation, Industrial Advisory Board of the Edison Welding Institute, Lehigh Materials Science and Engineering Visiting Committee, and a Trustee of the Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation.

He served on numerous Mines committees including Handbook, Research, Materials Science and MME Graduate Affairs, Presidential Search, Assessment, and the Faculty Senate where he was President, 2002-2003. His teaching included courses on kinetics, ceramics, integrated circuit processing, electrical properties, and point defects.

Dennis and wife Suzann have been married for 49 years and have two married sons and six grandchildren in Illinois and Ohio. In addition to writing long-neglected papers, reading, radio-controlled model airplanes and dabbling in family genealogy, Dennis is a novice amateur astronomer observing from his driveway in Bloomington Illinois.


A History of Ceramic Engineering Education Like other engineering disciplines, ceramic engineering was established to provide skilled technical employees and be a source of technical information for industry. Changes in industry and the evolution of science, technology, and education changed ceramic engineering education. The changes it experienced are informative to current discussions about industry- and technology-generated engineering specialization and its impact on all engineering disciplines.

Practical training in ceramics manufacturing developed in England and Europe in the 1800s but no formal degree programs emerged. Ceramic engineering began as a unique academic discipline in the United States in 1894 at the Ohio State University. Edward Orton, Jr., the son of the first president of OSU and a mining engineering graduate, working with ceramic companies while with the Ohio State Geological Survey, found a lack of technical information and training that he could access to assist the industry in the production of ceramic products. So he convinced the legislature to pass a law in 1894 establishing a ceramics program at OSU to provide technical education for clay, cement, and glass workers and he became its first chair.

Ceramic engineering is the oldest nanotechnology having always dealt with solid particles, initially clay, in the 10-1000 nm range. During the first 50 years or so, ceramic engineers applied thermodynamics, colloid chemistry, x-ray diffraction, crystal chemistry, and phase equilibria to the forming and firing of mainly clay-based materials. The number of ceramic engineering programs grew to around 10 and with 100 annual graduates who entered a commodity industry of clay-based products and glass. After the Second World War, with the accessibility of electron microscopy, improved understanding of solids, and the development of structurally simpler materials such as magnetic and high dielectric constant oxides, phosphors, nuclear fuels, and optical materials, major changes in the role of ceramics and ceramic education began. Modern ceramics became “enabling” materials for technologies such as radar, lighting, and nuclear power where ceramics play a critical systems role rather than being end-item commodities out of the kiln.

Competition from overseas commodity ceramics caused a significant decrease in the domestic industry while the manufacture of “enabling” ceramics was often undertaken by user industries. This changed the character of the industrial market for ceramic engineers: the clearly identifiable ceramics industry was in decline. In the 1960s, it was realized that relationships between properties and structure of ceramics and metals and glass and polymers were not all that different. This awareness led to “materials science and/or engineering” education with a renaming and refocusing of most metallurgical engineering programs to now include all materials and to compete with both separate ceramics and metallurgy programs. Today, the number of metallurgical engineering programs has decreased from around 70 to 9 and ceramic engineering from 12 to 4 while the number of accredited materials engineering programs has grown to about 65. As a result of the changing industrial and academic environment, the future of ceramic engineering is …

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