Walter S. Owen, professor emeritus of physical metallurgy at MIT, died Wednesday, Oct. 10 at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 87.
Owen joined MIT as head of what was to become the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; during his tenure as department head from 1973 to 1982, the department broadened its academic and research focus from metallurgy to include ceramics, polymers, and semiconductors. Controversial at the time, this change created a department that today produces groundbreaking work on lower-emission iron production, rechargeable batteries and lasers used in minimally invasive surgical procedures.
He received the Bachelor of Engineering in metallurgy (1940), the MEng (1942), and the PhD in metallurgy (1950), all from the University of Liverpool. In 1951, he became a Commonwealth Fund fellow at MIT, where he served as a member of the research staff from 1954 to 1957. Over the course of his career, he held both academic and administrative positions at several universities, including the University of Liverpool, where he was dean of Faculty of Engineering Science, Cornell University, where he directed the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Northwestern University, where he was dean of the Technological Institute and vice president for science and research.
He was deeply committed to the education of materials scientists and engineers and to furthering the evolution and development of the field of materials science and engineering, particularly in the areas of conservation, recycling, environmental concerns, public policy, and materials availability.
He is survived by his wife Geraldine Owen; his daughter Ruth Owen and her husband Peter Sherman and her children Owen and Dylan Uscher; his stepson Oren Lieberman and his wife Tanya Mergler and their children Mattis Lieberman, Nitzan Lieberman, and Tyler Moore; and his stepdaughter Helise Lieberman and her husband Yale Reisner.
A memorial service will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 in the MIT Chapel. By request of the family, in lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in Professor Owen’s memory to MIT for scholarships.