News: In the world of polymer science, Alan Neville Gent was a giant

In the world of polymer science, Alan Neville Gent was a giant

09/25/2012

A native of Leicester, England, Alan Neville Gent joined the faculty at The University of Akron in 1961 and 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.

Dr. Alan Gent


Although Gent likely will be remembered primarily for his groundbreaking 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 Ph.D. dissertations and 35 M.S. theses.

'Visionary scientist and educator'

"Brilliant and unassuming, Dr. Gent was both a remarkable scientist and a remarkable man,” said Dr. Stephen Cheng, dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. "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 center for polymer science and polymer engineering research. Truly, Dr. Gent was a visionary scientist and educator."
 
Born in 1927, Gent was educated at the University of London, where he earned degrees in physics and math before receiving his Ph.D. in 1955 on the mechanics of deformation and fracture of rubber and plastics. At the age of 17, he worked as a research assistant at the John Bull Rubber Co. and served the British Army from 1947-49 before becoming a research physicist and later a principal physicist at the British Rubber Producer’s Research Association, where he initiated a program in engineering research.
 
Just two years after joining The University of Akron as professor of polymer physics in the Institute of Rubber Research, Gent was named 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. He also served as consultant and scientific adviser to the Research Division of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company from 1964 to 2002.

Prolific author

During his distinguished career, 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." A co-holder of two British patents and one U.S. patent, he frequently was 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. Gent also 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.
 
In addition, Gent's extraordinary teaching and research career was recognized with numerous honors 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)
  • NASA Public Service Medal (1988)
  • Honorary degrees from Universite 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)

 Respected and admired by his colleagues and students, Gent 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 honor of his international recognition and his service to The University of Akron, the Board of Trustees of the University 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."

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