You are here

Mr. Rare Earth, Karl Gschneidner passes away on April 27

Ames Laboratory has lost an icon. Senior metallurgist Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., known internationally as Mr. Rare Earth, passed away early Wednesday morning at the age of 85. Visitation and prayer service will be held at Adams Funeral Home, 502 Douglas Ave, Ames, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM on Monday, May 2. A funeral mass will be at 10:00 AM on Tuesday May 3 at St. Cecelia Catholic Church, 2900 Hoover Ave, Ames.

Gschneidner began work on his Ph.D. at Iowa State University in 1955 and hired on as an Ames Laboratory graduate researcher in metallurgy. After receiving his doctorate from Iowa State in 1957, Gschneidner took a job in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and was promoted to section leader in 1961.

An opening at Iowa State and Ames Laboratory gave him the chance to return to Ames in 1963. Gschneidner formally retired from the Laboratory in January after a distinguished 60-year career that was dedicated to the study of rare-earth metals.

He was a Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University, a Senior Metallurgist at the Ames Laboratory, and the Chief Scientist of the Critical Materials Institute. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and earned a lengthy list of awards for his research.

A prolific writer, he published more than 544 articles in scientific journals and more than 170 chapters in books and conference proceedings. As testament of the quality of his research, his published works have been cited an astonishing 19,013 times – an average of 328 citations per year over his career.

“Our work on the giant magnetocaloric effect of gadolinium-silicon-germanium has been cited more than 2,100 times,” Gschneidner said at the time of his retirement, “so you could say we really hit the jackpot with that one. Finding something new or unexpected is what makes it worthwhile,” he added. “It’s kind of like hitting a great drive in golf; it keeps you coming back.”

“Karl has been an inspiration and a mentor to so many of us at Ames Laboratory and around the world,” said Ames Laboratory Director Adam Schwartz. “As a researcher, I read many of Karl’s papers as they related to my own work, and when the Critical Materials Energy Innovation Team first came together during the proposal process, I had my first opportunity to work directly with him.  His incredible knowledge of rare earth science was astonishing, but what is more remarkable was his willingness to help everyone around him do their best.  We will miss Karl.”

It was his renown as “Mr. Rare Earth” that led to the establishment of the Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub located at the Ames Laboratory. Gschneidner testified before a Congressional committee about the need for such a research center and later served as the first chief scientist for CMI.