Harris L. Marcus

For his outstanding contributions to the understanding of surfaces and interfaces, materials processing, and the mechanical behavior of structural materials, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Harris L. Marcus.

Cullen Trust Professor of Engineering Education
Director, Center and Program of Materials Science and Engineering
University of Texas, Austin
BSEMetE `63

On Purdue

I started out working as a chicken and dairy farmer in Ellenville, New York. A friend and I went into the poultry business-raising them for 18 cents a pound and selling them for 17. Farming wasn't working out, so I went to work for a small company called Channel Master, which made TV antennas. There I worked in the plating facility, drove a truck, and then took a job as an operator in the aluminum mill. Soon I was promoted to taking over the full evening shift-casting, extruding, straightening, and finishing tubing. When I got to Purdue, I was an operating metals engineer with no formal training.


At Purdue I chose the new materials science option, which included more math and physics and gave me a strong metallurgical background. I received tremendous exposure to a wide range of basic fundamentals that allowed me to understand what I had been doing for five years in industry.

I was not a standard freshman. I was older-28 years old-when I entered Purdue, which made me older than many of the professors in the materials science department. They had Ph.D.'s, but some of them were younger than I was, and in many ways I looked on them as colleagues. I was more involved in a serious attempt to study than most of my classmates. I lived at the Quadrangle, but after the first six months I became a counselor and then faculty sponsor in Unit C. The other students looked at me as the old kid on the block, but the relationships were very warm.

On career planning

When I started at Purdue there was a real question of whether I could hack it academically, even though I had natural ability. My real plan was to get my B.S. degree and go back to a job like the one I had, with a license to do it, a piece of paper that said now I knew what I was doing. But my freshman year I found that I was fairly strong academically, and I had the ability to relate my formal education to what I had done previously. So I decided the best thing to do was go on to get a Ph.D. to make up for lost time.

After finishing my Ph.D. at Northwestern University, I had several reasons for returning to industry rather than going right into education. I did consider teaching as one of my options, but I didn't want to start at the assistant professor level. I wanted to get some real experience in translating research into engineering "deliverables" of some sort. Getting more advanced experience would be good ground work for an educational position if I so desired. That was always in the back of my mind.

On his career

At Texas Instruments, I made a philosophical decision that I wanted to do research that I could quickly translate into an engineering operation. I found to my distaste that whenever money became tight, research was the first thing to be reduced if not eliminated.

Rockwell was one of the premier small labs in the country, so when an opportunity arose to go there, I jumped at it-and it turned out to be a very good choice. First, I was there when surface science started evolving. Many initial breakthroughs were made there, and I was immediately able to apply them to problems in materials. Second, I was able to couple that research with real engineering work on the Apollo program, the B-1 program, and the shuttle main engine program. I made fairly significant contributions applying fracture and surface science techniques to all those areas, which led to the Van Karman Award and put me on a fast track.

Rockwell Science Center had the approach that you hire people, then give them resources to blossom to their maximum. The impact was great in the metallurgy and materials area: my colleagues at the Center are some of the leading metallurgists in the world now because of that philosophy. If you're going to have progress technically, you must get the right people with insight and motivation and let them grow, let them follow their insights.

On teaching and research

I enjoy teaching. There are really two philosophies at research universities: You can either do research and build your teaching around it, or you can use research as a mechanism to teach graduate students. I do research not so much to progress my own research, which happens anyway, but as a mechanism to help students interested in my area to develop. Things move more slowly, but you have to let the students develop.


Cullen Trust Professor of Engineering Education, University of Texas, Austin. Through 1993 has published 198 articles, edited seven books, and received 10 patents.
Director of the Center and Program of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Tex as, Austin.
Northwestern University Alumni Association Award of Merit; Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Engineering.
Krengel Lecturer at the Technion in Israel.
Harry L. Kent, Jr., Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin.
Professor of Mechanical Engineering/Materials Science and Engineering, University of Texas, Austin . Helped develop Texas's multidisciplinary materials program into one of the nation's best.
Van Karman Memorial Special Award for Outstanding Contributions to Aerospace and Structural Materials Technology in Past Decade.
Group leader, Fracture and Metal Physics Group, Rockwell Science Center. Developed ion sputtering techniques that combined with Auger electron spectroscopy to determine local nature of the chemistry of surfaces and interfaces. (This is now a standard approach in surface science labs.)
Joined Rockwell Science Center's Physical Metallurgy Group as technical staff.
Technical staff, Texas Instruments.

BSMetE '63, Purdue; PhD '66, Northwestern University.