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Remembering Roger Washburne Staehle

Roger Washburne StaehleWe'd like to share a remembrance of Roger Washburne Staehle, a world-famous expert in the field of corrosion and founder of the Fontana Corrosion Center at The Ohio State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1965.

By Ronald M. Latanision (PhD '68)

The world has lost one of the greatest corrosion scientists and engineers of all time. I have lost very much more.

Roger Washburne Staehle died on January 16, 2017. I first met him early in my graduate student years at Ohio State, which began in 1964. That is a long time ago. I thought that he would live to 100 at least, given the Staehle family genetics.

I learned a lot from Roger. Much of this has to do with corrosion, of course. But I consider most important was his sense of humanity. Roger was a model for the adage that reasonable people can disagree but they do not have to be disagreeable. I recognized this in him early on but that sense was reinforced when we were on opposite sides of the Westinghouse steam generator litigation in the 1990s. In the litigation in which Duquesne Light and Power alleged that Westinghouse had sold them defective steam generators, Roger and I were in court waiting for opening arguments. He represented the utility and I was there on behalf of Westinghouse. He approached me and said “Ron, we have been friends for a long time; we will be friends after this ends, right?” I could not have been more happy than to hear this. My response was emphatically “Yes!” I was really concerned that he would think that I was somehow disrespectful. We had both examined the same information but come to different opinions. It is true that we disagreed, but we were not personally disagreeable. Never! This is a philosophy that I think would be useful to everyone, including our elected officials in Washington who are supposed to lead this country.

Over the years, I had thought that Roger would become either a university president or, even better, a politician. Roger had many gifts: he had the vision to see the essence of any issue, technical or otherwise, with clarity. And, he could always see a path forward, a solution. He often described this as political metallurgy. He spoke with confidence and conviction. He was a prodigious writer. He is shown below in his office control center! He chose to focus on making his understanding available as a consultant, but imagine what he might have done in the service of this country in public life? 

Roger was an older brother to me. He was there when I needed him as he was to many, many others. It is not an exaggeration to say that I loved him as a brother. We did disagree on occasion. But, which brothers don't have disagreements sometimes? He was not perfect, but he was a very good man. Scientists and engineers all over this planet recognized him and the impact that he had on corrosion science and engineering. All engineering systems are constructed with materials, and then put into service, often in environments that are hostile. Power plants, airframes, prosthetic devices to name a few. He considered it important that engineers who design, build, operate, inspect and maintain engineering systems understand the limits of chemical stability of all the materials of construction of such systems. No one made more contributions to our understanding than Roger. And as that understanding evolved he was not reluctant to adjust to change. His Critical Analysis of Tight Cracks, which he published in Corrosion Reviews (which I edit along with Noam Eliaz) in 2010 is a case in an example. In this paper, Roger points to a “paradigm shift” in considering mechanisms of stress corrosion cracking based upon the use of the sophisticated, modern analytical equipment. New experimental observations led him to consider tight cracks or molecular cracks that are of the order of 1-5 nm (10-50 A) wide. He concludes: “There is evidence suggesting that the advance of SCC is a brittle process and is not associated with breaking of passive films. Studies of mature SCC after cracking at the crack tip show that the oxides formed do not come from the crack tip but rather from in-situ oxidation.” He and I shared the view that the unprecedented convergence of computational modeling and simulation software and experimental facilities that allow atom-order observation provides a new era of understanding of the many forms of environmentally induced cracking.

Roger Staehle could have retired from science and engineering some time ago. He chose not to do that but, instead, continued to work in areas of this field that interested and concerned him. His vast experience made the world a better place. His influence was global as was his presence. He is the epitome of a technological statesman. We all have much to learn from his professional convictions and personal interaction with people all over the world. 

(Ronald M. Latanison (PhD '68) is Senior Fellow of Materials & Corrosion Engineering with Exponent. Prior to joining Exponent, Dr. Latanision was the Director of The H.H. Uhlig Corrosion Laboratory in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at M.I.T., and held joint faculty appointments in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and in the Department of Nuclear Engineering. He led the School of Engineering’s Materials Processing Center at MIT as its Director from 1985 to 1991. He is now an Emeritus Professor at MIT. In April 2015, he was appointed an Adjunct Professor in the Key Laboratory of Nuclear Materials and Safety Assessment of the Institute of Metal Research of The Chinese Academy of Sciences. In addition, he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of ASM International, NACE International, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.)

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