Robert Maddin

Born: October 20, 1918 | Hartford, CT, US
Died: March 3, 2019

Robert Maddin begins the interview by discussing his childhood and education and early work experiences including his time at Brooklyn College, his B.Sc. in metallurgical engineering, his Dr. Eng in metallurgy at Yale University, and his Armed Forces service during World War II. Maddin spent several years teaching at Johns Hopkins University before moving on to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the head of the metallurgy department. Maddin describes starting up the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter and his shift to the history of science, including his second career at Harvard University's anthropology department. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0576
No. of pages: 47
Minutes: 147

Interview Sessions

Hyungsub Choi
22 April 2008
Arlington, Virginia

Abstract of Interview

Robert Maddin begins the interview by briefly describing his childhood and attending school in Hartford, Connecticut; enrolling in Brooklyn College; and decision to study metallurgical engineering at Purdue University. Maddin then served in the Armed Forces during World War II before enrolling at Yale University for graduate studies. After Yale Maddin spent several years teaching at Johns Hopkins University's mechanical engineering department before accepting a position at the University of Pennsylvania. As the head of Penn's metallurgical engineering department, Maddin was responsible for its growth over the next 2 decades. During that time Sputnik caused a surge in scientific funding and led Maddin and other professors to submit a proposal for a materials science laboratory within Penn. With the proposal a success, Maddin then described starting up the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM) and the role the metallurgy department played in its formation. Maddin then offered details of LRSM operations and interactions between the chemistry, physics, and metallurgy departments within the facility. After being appointed a UniversityProfessor by Penn administration, Maddin had the freedom of teaching in any department and gradually shifted his focus towards the history of science. Maddin concludes the interview by describing his second career at Harvard University's anthropology department, and his interest in metallography and the historical usage of metal. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1943 Purdue University BSc Metallurgical Engineering
1948 Yale University DEng Metallurgy

Professional Experience

Yale University

1948 to 1949
Postdoctoral Fellow

Johns Hopkins University

1949 to 1955
Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

University of Birmingham

Visiting Professor

University of Pennsylvania

1955 to 1972
Professor, Metallurgy Department
1955 to 1972
Department Chair, Metallurgy Department
1972 to 1983
University Professor

Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter

1965 to 1972
Executive Committee

Harvard University

1983 to 1986
Professor, Anthropology Department
1986 to 1989
Curator, Honorary Curator, Peabody Museum

Table of Contents

Childhood and Education

Attending middle and high school in Hartford, Connecticut. Traveling postgraduation and decision to attend college. Attending Purdue University. Serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. Enrolling at Yale University for graduate education.

Early career at Johns Hopkins

Teaching metallurgy in the mechanical engineering department. Interactions with the physics department. Exchange program in Birmingham, England. Influence of Alan Cottrell while abroad. Accepting a position from University of Pennsylvania.

Career at University of Pennsylvania

State and structure of the metallurgy department upon arrival. Becoming department head. Recruitment and expansion of the department.

Role in establishing the LRSM

Sputnik and recognizing the bottleneck of U. S. scientific personnel. Submitting proposal for materials center to ARPA. Role in John Hobstetter joining the faculty. Fundraising with Hobstetter. Configuration and design of LRSM.

Career development at Penn

Work on point defects interactions and diffusion in solids. Thoughts on the Office of Naval Research. LRSM facilities and laboratory structure. Metallurgy department renamed materials science department.

LRSM operations

Thoughts on inter-departmental collaboration. Impression on subsequent directors of LRSM. Funding switchover from ARPA to NSF. Role of materials science department in LRSM. Interaction with materials science departments at other institutions.

Second career studying the history of metallurgy

Being promoted to University Professor. Shifting interest towards history of science. Joining Harvard University as faculty. Interest in metallography and the historical usage of zinc.


About the Interviewer

Hyungsub Choi

Hyungsub Choi is an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Seoul National University and was manager of the emerging technologies program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, directing the Robert W. Gore Materials Innovation project. His training is in the history of science and technology, with specialties in recent developments in the fields of semiconductors, materials science, and nanotechnology. He has received degrees from Seoul National University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo, Japan. Choi’s works have appeared in leading professional journals, such as Technology and Culture and Social Studies of Science.  Currently, he is preparing a book examining the history of the semiconductor industry in the United States and Japan.