Dr. Martin E. Straumanis: a pioneer of materials research

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On July 18, 2023

Dr. Martin E. Straumanis (left) with colleague Dr. William James examining an X-ray microscope. Photo courtesy of S&T Archives.

Dr. Martin E. Straumanis (left) with colleague Dr. William James examine an X-ray microscope. Photo courtesy of S&T Archives.

The building originally known as the Graduate Center for Materials Research, now known as Straumanis-James Hall, honors two pioneers of research at Missouri S&T: Dr. Martin E. Straumanis and Dr. William “Bill” James.

Straumanis was a member of the S&T faculty from 1948 until his death in 1973. He was educated at the University of Latvia in Riga. While conducting electrochemical research he developed a new approach to the study of metal corrosion problems. After further study in Germany, in 1927, he returned to the University of Latvia faculty.

In 1931, he studied X-ray diffraction in Berlin, then established an X-ray laboratory in Riga where he and a graduate student developed and perfected what became known as the “Straumanis Asymmetric Method” for X-ray precision determination of lattice parameters of solids. During the late 1930s he continued his work and published extensively on both electrochemistry and solid state science. He was co-author with Dr. Bruno Jirgensons of A Short Textbook of Colloid Chemistry, which has been revised and printed in several languages.

For the next few years, Latvia was occupied by both Russians and Germans. Straumanis and his family, leaving behind relatives’ and all personal belongings, became associated with the Institute for Metal Chemistry at the University of Marburrg in Germany. When the Allies closed the Institute in 1947, Straumanis and his family were unable to return to Riga, which was then under Soviet control. He accepted an offer from Dean Curtis Laws Wilson to come to Rolla and be a research professor of metallurgy.

In 1954, Straumanis, working with James of S&T’s chemistry department, initiated several research programs. Through their efforts, some of S&T’s first federal support for research was obtained from the National Science Foundation and the Atomic Energy Commission. When the Graduate Center for Materials Research was instituted in 1964, Straumanis was offered the position of research professor with dual appointments in the center and the department of metallurgical engineering.

During his tenure at S&T, Straumanis published more that 300 articles in professional journals, coauthored three texts, wrote book reports and chapters for texts and encyclopedia, wrote federal and industrial reports on his research, and presented numerous papers and seminars. His international reputation as a scientist was enlarged and he won many honors all over the world. In addition, more than 100 graduate students, scattered all over the world, studied under his direction. Many today are recognized as outstanding teachers, scientists and engineers.

This article is adapted from one published in the August 1978 edition of Missouri S&T Magazine, then known as MSM Alumnus .

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