Obituary – Professor Ernest Hondros CMG FRS

Fellows' Lounge
31 Jan 2017

Professor Ernest Hondros DSc CMG FRS 1930-2016

Professor Ernest Hondros, a British materials scientist, innovator, leader, and friend to many, died aged 86 in Rhodes after a short illness.

Anastasios (Ernest) Demetrios Hondros was born in 1930 on the Greek island of Castellorizo where he went to school and learned to swim.  When he was eight years old, the family emigrated to North Queensland, Australia, to escape the impending war.  Ernest could speak no English when he started at the Cairns State Primary School.  In 1947 the family moved to Melbourne where Ernest studied at Melbourne University, graduating as Bachelor of Science in 1955 and Master of Science in Metallurgy in 1959 whilst employed at the CSIRO Tribophysics Laboratory in Melbourne.

In 1959 he returned to Europe to study metal-gas reactivity at the University of Paris, which led to a Doctorate. Dr Hondros then joined the Metallurgy Division of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) as a Research Fellow in 1962 to work on the surface energies of metals, mentored by Dr Donald McLean.  It was at NPL that Dr Hondros undertook most of his research.   One of his first contributions at NPL was to develop a refined zero-creep technique for determining the absolute surface energies of alloys at temperatures up to near their melting points.  Dr Hondros made further notable contributions in the field of surface science including, in collaboration with Dr Martin Seah, the establishment of facilities for Auger electron spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectric spectroscopy, and secondary ion mass spectrometry.  He nurtured a team of researchers working on the surface and interface properties of materials that established a leading position in developing these techniques and applying them to the solution of many industrial materials problems.   The accurate measurement of the thermodynamic properties of interfaces in crystalline materials was pioneered at NPL and it was demonstrated that solute concentration at interfaces can be understood in terms of classical adsorption theory. By extending these ideas, he emphasised the importance of interfacial microchemistry in governing the mechanical strength of engineering materials.

In 1979 Dr Hondros was appointed Superintendent of the Division of Materials Applications at NPL.  He did much to promote materials science research nationally and internationally, and foster contacts with the industrial and academic communities.  He participated widely in international academic activities, with membership of European advisory committees as well as editorial committees of learned journals. He promulgated the need for standards on properties of advanced industrial materials, which led to the formation of the internationally collaborative standards body VAMAS (Versailles Agreement on Advanced Materials & Standards), an organisation mandated by the G7 governments and the European Commission at the 1982 economic summit in Versailles.  VAMAS provides both the leadership and technical basis for internationally harmonised measurement standards for engineering materials. 

For his leadership of internationally collaborative materials science research, Ernest Hondros was made a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen in 1996.

For his work on surfaces and interfaces, Dr Hondros was awarded the then Institute of Metals Rosenhain Medal in 1976 and the Griffith Medal in 1987. In 1978 he was awarded, jointly with Martin Seah, the Marion Howe Medal of the American Society of Metals.  In 1986 Dr Hondros was invited to present the prestigious annual Hatfield Memorial Lecture.  His scientific contributions were recognised with the awarding of an Honorary Doctorate of Science (DSc) by his alma mater, Melbourne University in 1976 and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of London.  He was an Honorary Member of the Societe Française de Metallurgie and a former Fellow of IOM3.

In 1984 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and later was appointed visiting professor at Imperial College London. In 1985 Dr Hondros left NPL to become Director of the Institute for Advanced Materials at the Petten (Netherlands) and Ispra (Italy) Laboratories of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Notwithstanding his achievements in research and in science leadership, Ernie Hondros will be remembered by his many friends and colleagues more for his humanity, his kindness, his loyalty to his team, and his great sense of humour.  He was a man of many interests; multi-lingual, erudite, and ever-ready to expound on, amongst many subjects, the glorious contribution made to Civilisation by the Greeks. Above all he was wonderful company, glass of red wine to hand, relating tales with a dry sense of humour and never minding to be the butt of jokes himself.  Though sad at his passing, memories of Ernie Hondros will always bring a smile to the faces of those who were privileged to know him.

Ernest Hondros leaves his wife Sissel, sons Alexander and Constantine, and five grandchildren.

Colin Lea OBE