The international ferroelectrics community lost a long-time and productive member on Christmas Day 2009 when William N. (Bill) Lawless died. Bill was born in Denver, Colorado in the USA in 1936. He graduated in Metallurgical Engineering in 1959 from the Colorado School of Mines, and went on to earn a Ph.D in physics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. His thesis was on ferroelectric domain walls. Dr. Lawless then spent a year as a Postdoctoral Fellow at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland where he continued his research on ferroelectric materials in Professor Werner Kanzig’s and Professor Hans Granicher’s laboratories.
At the end of 1965, Bill returned to the USA to take up a position at the recently established Research and Development Laboratories of Corning Glass in Corning, New York. At Corning, Bill worked on ferroelectric glass ceramics and the low-temperature physics of ferroelectric and relatedmaterials.Out of thiswork came the important discovery of the high specific heat ferroelectric ceramics.
In 1981, Bill and Dr. C. Fred Clark founded CeramPhysics, Inc., an independent research and product development company located in Westerville, Ohio. Bill served as President of CeramPhysics from its founding until his death. Over the last 28 years, CeramPhysics has developed a variety of novel technologies building on some of the basic research done by Bill at Corning on high specific heat ferroelectric ceramics. These technologies have resulted in the development of a solid state proportioning valve for natural gas, minature solid state oxygen and NOx sensors, capacitive energy storage at 77K, a solid state oxygen generator, a solid state nitrogen purifies, a honeycomb fuel cell, electrocaloric refrigeration, and improved insulation for superconductors.
Bill was an original thinker, widely read and able to see potential synergisms across disparate fields. He was especially creative at seeing new uses for unusual properties of ceramics. This inventiveness led to 38 patents. His publications, which numbered over 140, were coauthored with a large number of colleagues from many countries. They included such well known ferroelectric scientists as A.S. Bhalla, W.W. Cao, C.F. Clark, L.E. Cross, R.C. De Vries, J. Fousek, A.M. Glass, H. Granicher, U. Hochli, S.K. Kurtz, T. Nakamura, K.A. Panchyk, R.K. Pandy, G.A. Samara, W.A. Schulz, V.H. Schmidt, N. Setter, T.R. Shrout, A. Sternberg and M. Takashige. Bill investigated in his career the ferroelectric, dielectric, thermal and superconductive properties of a wide variety of materials in single crystal, ceramic and glass forms. In the early years of his career his work was focused on physics, but later it became more application oriented.
Bill served on the Editorial Board of Ferroelectrics from 1983 to his death in 2009. He was a long-time member of the IEEE Ferroelectrics Committee and served as Chairman of the 1981 International Symposium on Applications of Ferroelectricity.
Bill was widely respected in the ferroelectrics community and it was common for other researchers to seek him out. Bill resonated with other creative people and the ideas that came from these interactions often led to new inventions and fruitful interactions and creative insights. Bill enjoyed reading in many fields and was well-versed in current events. He had a wide circle of friends and was always ready to hear or tell a new joke. One of his most outstanding traits was his unusually deep well of common sense which he always attributed to his Irish heritage, especially though his father. Bill is survived by his widow Nancy and three daughters, Laurie, Denise, and Therese.
C. Fred Clark
George W. Taylor
C. Fred Clark and George W. Taylor, “Obituary: Dr. William N. Lawless (1936-2009)”, Ferroelectrics, Volume 396, pp. 1-2 (2010). (Published by Taylor & Francis Ltd, http://www.informaworld.com, reprinted by permission of the publisher)