Rosenhain, Walter

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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b. 24 August 1875 Berlin, Germany
d. 17 March 1934 Kingston Hill, Surrey, England
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German metallurgist, first Superintendent of the Department of Metallurgy and Metallurgical Chemistry at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex.
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His family emigrated to Australia when he was 5 years old. He was educated at Wesley College, Melbourne, and attended Queen's College, University of Melbourne, graduating in physics and engineering in 1897. As an 1851 Exhibitioner he then spent three years at St John's College, Cambridge, under Sir Alfred Ewing, where he studied the microstructure of deformed metal crystals and abandoned his original intention of becoming a civil engineer. Rosenhain was the first to observe the slip-bands in metal crystals, and in the Bakerian Lecture delivered jointly by Ewing and Rosenhain to the Royal Society in 1899 it was shown that metals deformed plastically by a mechanism involving shear slip along individual crystal planes. From this conception modern ideas on the plasticity and recrystallization of metals rapidly developed. On leaving Cambridge, Rosenhain joined the Birmingham firm of Chance Brothers, where he worked for six years on optical glass and lighthouse-lens systems. A book, Glass Manufacture, written in 1908, derives from this period, during which he continued his metallurgical researches in the evenings in his home laboratory and published several papers on his work.
In 1906 Rosenhain was appointed Head of the Metallurgical Department of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and in 1908 he became the first Superintendent of the new Department of Metallurgy and Metallurgical Chemistry. Many of the techniques he introduced at Teddington were described in his Introduction to Physical Metallurgy, published in 1914. At the outbreak of the First World War, Rosenhain was asked to undertake work in his department on the manufacture of optical glass. This soon made it possible to manufacture optical glass of high quality on an industrial scale in Britain. Much valuable work on refractory materials stemmed from this venture. Rosenhain's early years at the NPL were, however, inseparably linked with his work on light alloys, which between 1912 and the end of the war involved virtually all of the metallurgical staff of the laboratory. The most important end product was the well-known "Y" Alloy (4% copper, 2% nickel and 1.5% magnesium) extensively used for the pistons and cylinder heads of aircraft engines. It was the prototype of the RR series of alloys jointly developed by Rolls Royce and High Duty Alloys. An improved zinc-based die-casting alloy devised by Rosenhain was also used during the war on a large scale for the production of shell fuses.
After the First World War, much attention was devoted to beryllium, which because of its strength, lightness, and stiffness would, it was hoped, become the airframe material of the future. It remained, however, too brittle for practical use. Other investigations dealt with impurities in copper, gases in aluminium alloys, dental alloys, and the constitution of alloys. During this period, Rosenhain's laboratory became internationally known as a centre of excellence for the determination of accurate equilibrium diagrams.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1913. President, Institute of Metals 1828–30. Iron and Steel Institute Bessemer Medal, Carnegie Medal.
Bibliography
1908, Glass Manufacture.
1914, An Introduction to the Study of Physical Metallurgy, London: Constable. Rosenhain published over 100 research papers.
Further Reading
J.L.Haughton, 1934, "The work of Walter Rosenhain", Journal of the Institute of Metals 55(2):17–32.
ASD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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