Obituary – Dr Ranendra Dutta FIMMM

29 Mar 2015

I have great pleasure in writing about my father, Dr Ranendra (Ranen) Dutta, who was a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) from the 1970s. Unfortunately, we lost our father in April 2014 after a brief illness.

Ranen studied at the Technical University of Hannover, Germany, from 1953, being the first Indian student after the Second World War under a German scholarship scheme. His research was on quinary phase theory and, later on, aluminisation of steel. He worked for several months in Boliden Copper Works on Skellefteå and at an electrowinning plant in Roenskar, Sweden. He was also associated with Lurgi, Germany, in its non-ferrous metals division and with Brixlegg Secondary Copper plant, owned by Austria Metals and Lurgi.

On his return to India from Europe, Ranen worked for Metal Box Co Ltd, where he developed creep-resistant, low-tin solder (2%Sn, 98% Pb). Later, he joined Eyre Smelting (now Cooksons India) and was Director of the company after serving both in India and the UK for about 15 years. He worked under Dr Rudolf (Rolf) Strauss, Director of Fry’s Metals UK and inventor of the Wave Soldering System for printed circuit boards (PCBs). Ranen owned several patents jointly with Rolf on PCB soldering and aluminium cable soldering, when India changed over to underground aluminium conductor cables in 1960. 

We have heard interesting stories from our father about his time in England. When they would visit England, my father and mother, Pratima, would stay in Hampstead Heath, very close to Rolf and his wife, Hanna’s, home. My father would take the underground train to reach his office and laboratories in Wimbledon. They would have lunch in the Directors’ Dining Room, where Sir George Harper would be at the head of the table. He would fondly ask our father to carve the meat. Sir Harper encouraged discussions on motor cars and golf, rather than politics, and they would discuss all the new innovations they were researching. In fact, Ranen was nominated for Fellowship of the Institute by Sir George Harper, for his work on solders with Rolf. 

On certain days, the Director of Down Brothers, a company next door to Fry’s Metals that made orthopaedic implants, would be invited to have lunch with Fry’s Metals’ directors. On many occasions, the Director of Down Brothers would discuss the problems faced by Indian patients on using their implants. Recently, in 2009, when my father and I started a project on using titanium foam for making orthopaedic implants, my father guided me on the bio-mechanics of hip and knee joints as well as the correct choice of material. He would recall his discussions with the Director of Down Brothers during the late ’60s and early ’70s. 

Ranen was assigned by M/S Cooksons UK Ltd to survey ceramic body, glazes and colours manufactured by factories in Stoke-on-Trent, for a proposal of mergability of the technology. We heard from our father that, while in Stoke-on-Trent, he had to visit several ceramic factories. Most of them were family-run businesses and he would be invited to have dinner with the owners, when they would explain to him why their glazes and crockery were the best among others in the region. 

With a wealth of knowledge and expertise on non-ferrous metals, Ranen later became a sought-after consultant in India. He was Director of Silverton Metals Pvt Ltd. He also founded two business entities – Data Metallurgical Company, a consulting firm, and Chemmetals, which designs and manufactures a range of solders and fluxes for the non-ferrous and electronics industry. As well as a Fellow of IOM3, Ranen was a VDI of Germany. He served the Eastern Chamber of Commerce of India as President. He has been an active Rotarian and a Paul Harris Fellow. He knew Mother Teresa from late 1950s and, later on, had the opportunity to serve her charity through Rotary.

Ranen was born in the ‘Dutta family of Wellington Square’ of Calcutta. His great-great-grandfathers, Akrur Dutt and Rajendra Dutt, pioneered Indo-American maritime trade in the 19th Century and were leading figures of the Bengal renaissance. Calcutta’s first library, called Savitri Library, was in Ranen’s ancestral home, where Rabindra Nath Tagore and many such luminaries used to flock to consult rare manuscripts archived there. Ranen was the anchor for research of that era and Dr Susan Bean, the Chief Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachussettes, was in constant touch with him to discover the family history that was relevant to the maritime trade.

My father guided me throughout my professional life. He encouraged me to study metallurgy when I had to choose between science and engineering. He only taught me for one day during my undergraduate study – the phase diagram of a tin alloy that was used to make precision-cast letters for typewriters. He demonstrated it from an Institute of Metals monograph that he bought in the late 1960s at 1 Carlton House Terrace, which he would visit often when he was in London. The practical way he taught me the phase diagram has formed the basis for my understanding of many other complex alloys.

Ranen’s wife, Pratima, was a world-renowned scientist, with a PhD in Biochemistry. She was Deputy Director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology. Pratima received encouragement from Ranen to pursue her scientific profession. Unfortunately, Pratima passed away in 2006. They were blessed with three daughters – Ujjaini (a PhD from Cranfield University and now a senior Faculty of Chemical Engineering at Jadavpur University in Calcutta), myself, Kanyakumari (a PhD from the University of Sheffield and now managing my father’s businesses) and Mayurakshi (a PhD in Atmospheric Science and Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana, Champaign, who now works for Intel in the USA).

It is indeed a great loss in the family. Our father was not only a great consultant, but also he was an affectionate and responsible father to us. It is a bigger loss for the non-ferrous community of the world – his colleagues and associates will miss him forever, for his ever smiling and caring personality.

Dr Kanyakumari Datta