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Metallurgist and inventor Merton C. Flemings was born Sept
20, 1929 in Syracuse, New York. He first became intrigued
with science in high school, inspired by a physics teacher.
For more than 50 years, he has focused his research on ways
to produce, recycle and improve products through understanding
and applying the underlying science of the materials those
products are made of.
Flemings received his S.B. degree from MIT in the Department
of Metallurgy in 1951, followed by his S.M. and Sc.D. degrees
in Metallurgy in 1952 and 1954. He accepted a position as
an Assistant Professor at MIT in 1956 and became Professor
there in 1969. A decade later he established MIT's Materials
Processing Center, where he served as director until 1982.
That year he was promoted to Department Head of Materials
Science and Engineering.
Today Flemings holds more than 26 patents for metallurgical
processes. His most notable inventions are two processes now
widely used in industry. The first is the process of using
magnetic fields to improve the quality of silicon single crystals
and of steel continuous castings. When a conductor moves in
a steady, DC magnetic field it creates a current. Since one
can't create something from nothing, there is a force acting
on the conductor to produce the electricity needed to push
the conductor, or it would slow down and eventually stop.
This is the basis of the electric generator. A liquid conductor
acts just like the conductor in a generator: If a liquid is
moving in a magnetic field, a current is generated and the
flow slows down. Flemings' patent, based on this phenomena,
is now widely used in growth of silicon crystals, and in continuous
casting of steel to control the material flow, which results
in a higher quality material.
Flemings' second process produces and forms metals in the
semi-solid state; it is used to produce high quality light-weight
aluminum components for cars. To use an analogy for clarity,
when making ice cream, one stirs the liquid while it crystallizes
in order to break up the large ice crystals which would otherwise
form. When properly stirred during its manufacture, *ice cream
is smooth and creamy and will keep its shape but can easily
be formed -- if it is not too cold. It flows smoothly as one
eats it, in spite of the fact that it contains a substantial
fraction of solid. Metals behave the same way. This is the
basis for Flemings' "semi-solid" patents, which
are applied in making high -quality aluminum components for
automobiles. The parts have higher strength and reliability
than do parts made by traditional processes.
Over the course of his career Flemings has received numerous
medals, awards and honors, including the Acta Metallurgica
J. Herbert Holloman Award in 1997, and election into the National
Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences. Flemings authored or co-authored 300 papers and
two books, and in 2002, two chairs in the Department of Materials
Science and Engineering were named in his honor: The Merton
C. Flemings-SMA Professorship and The Merton C. Flemings Career
and Development Chair.
Currently MIT's Toyota Professor emeritus and director of
the Lemelson-MIT Program, Flemings is also board chairman
of cellist Yo-Yo Ma's inventive "Silk Road Project"
and continues to work with industry on metal casting innovations.