A 'giant' in the world of polymer and adhesion science is remembered

The Society for Adhesion & Adhesives
28 Sep 2012

The worlds of adhesion and adhesives and of polymer science were deeply saddened by the news that Dr Alan Gent had died on September 20 at his home in Ravenna with his wife, Ginger, at his side; he was 84.

The Adhesion Society in the United States of America writes: ‘We are greatly saddened to mark the passing of Dr Alan Gent, who many of us view as the singularly most influential scientist to have worked in the field of adhesion. While his legacy to the Society will certainly continue, his presence in our midst will be greatly missed.’

Alan Neville Gent was born in Huddersfield, England
in 1927 and, at the age of 17, he joined the John Bull Rubber Co., in
Leicester, to work as a research assistant. Whilst there, he studied part time
Leicester Technical College for external [London University] Bachelor of
Science [B.S.] degrees in Physics and Mathematics. His education was
interrupted from 1947 to 1949 by National Service in the Army. Following his
spell in the army, he completed his BS degrees and augmented these with a
special B.Sc. in Physics in 1949. From 1949 to 1961 he was a research
physicist, and later a principal physicist, at the British (now Malaysian)
Rubber Producers' Research Association, where he initiated a programme in
engineering research. Whilst working for BRPRA, in 1955, he received his Ph.D.
following his research on the mechanics of deformation and fracture of rubber
and plastics.

Leicester Technical College was eventually
incorporated into De Montfort University which establishment awarded Alan an
honorary D.Sc. in 1998.

However, in 1961, at the age of 34, he left the United Kingdom for the United States of America where he joined the University of Akron as professor of polymer physics in the Institute of Rubber Research. Only two years later he was appointed assistant director of the Institute of Polymer Science. He served in this role until 1978, when he was named Dean of graduate studies and research, a post he held for eight years. Gent returned full time to research and teaching, as the Dr Harold A. Morton Professor of Polymer Physics and Polymer Engineering, from 1986 until his ‘unofficial’ retirement in 1994. In ‘retirement’ he was appointed Professor Emeritus of Polymer Physics and Polymer Engineering at the University of Akron. He also served as consultant and scientific adviser to the Research Division of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company from 1964 to 2002.

After joining the University of Akron, Alan spent the next half century as a pioneer in his field. Internationally known, Gent was widely regarded as the foremost expert on the fracture mechanics of rubber and plastics. His research yielded significant contributions to the world's understanding of the physics of adhesion and the fracture of rubbery, crystalline and glassy polymers. Gent's work had the potential of impacting nearly every rubber or plastic product developed today.

Although his main research interests were in the mechanics of deformation and fracture of rubber and plastics his involvement in the field of adhesion and adhesives clearly came early in his career at the University of Akron: he chaired the Gordon Research Conference on Adhesion in 1976 and as a result became one of the founders and first President of the Adhesion Society Inc. in 1977; his book – ‘The Relation of Molecular Structure to Adhesion’ was published in 1979. His work and, particularly, interest in adhesion lasted until the end of his life.

In the USA, this was recognised by the Adhesion Society, in 1987, when Dr Gent became the inaugural winner of the 3M Award for Excellence in Adhesion Science. He was also honoured, in 1994, by having one of the Adhesion Society annual awards named after him: the ‘Alan Gent Distinguished Student Paper Award’.

In the UK, his achievements were recognised by the Society for Adhesion and Adhesives [SAA] on Tuesday 3 September 1996 at the Euradh conference at Churchill College in Cambridge, when he became only the third recipient of the Wake Memorial Medal. In accepting the medal he gave a paper entitled ‘Effect of the interface on the strength of adhesion’.

Alan’s wide-ranging interests can be summarised in that he presided over three national scientific Societies (the High-Polymer Physics Division of the American Physical Society, the Society of Rheology and the Adhesion Society) and chaired four Gordon Research Conferences dealing with Elastomers, Cellular Materials, Adhesion and Composites. In 1991 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Alan was also inducted into the Ohio Science, Technology and Industry Hall of Fame.

Notably, he also served on the 11-member National Research Council panel that oversaw the redesign of the space shuttle’s solid-fuel rockets in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion.

Although Alan likely will be remembered primarily for his ground-breaking work as a scientist, his legacy also will include being an outstanding educator. Gent possessed a unique gift for bringing complex concepts into clear focus in both laboratory and the classroom, and during his lengthy career with the University, he directed to completion more than 40 PhD dissertations and 35 MS theses.

Alan was frequently invited to address universities, corporations and professional society meetings around the world and served as a visiting professor at Queen Mary College at the University of London, McGill University and the University of Minnesota.

During his distinguished career, Alan Gent published more than 200 papers and book chapters on the mechanical properties of rubber and plastics and edited a book titled "Engineering with Rubber" and was the co-inventor associated with two British patents and one U.S. patent.

Respected and admired by his colleagues and students, Alan never relinquished a desire to contribute to his field, and he remained active with the University and the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering until his passing.

In addition, Gent's extraordinary teaching and research career was recognized with numerous honours and awards, including:

Mobay Award, SPI's Cellular Plastics Division (1964)

Bingham Medal of the Society of Rheology (1975)

Colwyn Medal of the Plastics and Rubber Institute (1978)

American Society for Testing and Materials International, Adhesives Award (1979)

Society of Plastic Engineers International Research Award (1980)

3M Award for Excellence in Adhesion Science for the Adhesion Society (1987)

George Stafford Whitby Distinguished Teaching Award (1987)

Charles Goodyear Medal of the Rubber Division (1990)

Medal of the College de France (1990)

Polymer Physics Prize, American Physical Society (1996)

Wake Memorial Medal (1996)

Honorary degrees from Université de Haute-Alsace, France (1997) and De Montfort

University, U.K. (1998)

Tan Sri Dr. B.C. Sekhar Gold Medal (2011)

Inaugural Tire Technology International Lifetime Achievement Award (2012)

The final tribute to this remarkable man has just been announced: "In honour of his international recognition and his service to the University of Akron, the Board of Trustees of the University has voted unanimously to change the name of the Ohio Research Scholar Professor at the University of Akron to henceforth be named the ‘Alan N. Gent Ohio Research Scholar Professor of Polymers.’"

It is probably best, though, to leave the final word to Stephen Cheng, Dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, who said:

"Brilliant and unassuming, Dr Gent was both a remarkable scientist and a remarkable man" said "From the beginning of his ties to the University of Akron, it was clear he possessed an extraordinary knowledge of and passion for his field. His pioneering work was coveted by global research and development firms, his contemporaries and students, and the University gratefully acknowledges Dr Gent's invaluable role in helping position it as a leading centre for polymer science and polymer engineering research. Truly, Dr Gent was a visionary scientist and educator."