Clark School of Engineering Professor Joseph Silverman Remembered

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Joseph Silverman, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the University of Maryland (UMD), passed away on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, at the age of 97. Professor Silverman significantly impacted the lives of countless individuals – family, colleagues, friends, and students - throughout his long and distinguished career. His knowledge and expertise gained him well deserved worldwide recognition, yet he was always kind, thoughtful and considerate, which showed that he truly cared about the people in his life.

Professor Silverman earned his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Columbia University in 1951. He served eight years in industry, and a year as an associate professor at Stony Brook University before he was recruited by Dick Duffy (a chemical engineer and a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army who worked on the Manhattan project) in 1960 to help launch the University’s fledgling nuclear program as part of the Department of Chemical Engineering. He was a faculty member in the College from 1960 until his retirement in 1991, and then continued with his research and interacted with students as an emeritus professor.

Silverman, an expert in the interaction of ionizing radiation with polymers, was there on the day the reactor first went online, and subsequently built much of what the nuclear program was from the ground up, including the University's first radiation facilities and supporting laboratories, and the program’s first curriculum. He is largely responsible for developing the reactor and radiation vaults still in use today. Dr. Silverman was a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society and the American Physical Society, and served as the director of the University of Maryland Institute for Physical Science and Technology from 1976-1983. He was a winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966, was appointed as distinguished professor of engineering at the University of Tokyo in 1974, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his fundamental and applied work in radiation physics and chemistry at the 9th International Symposium on Ionizing Radiation and Polymers in 2010.

Silverman was the longest-serving faculty member of the MSE Department at UMD, helping to shepherd new, innovative ways of transforming materials through the use of ionizing radiation.

“Professor Silverman was my mentor in navigating through the many requirements that came with being chair of the Materials and Nuclear Engineering Department,” said MSE Professor, Aris Christou, who served as Department Chair from 1993-2003. “His first and most important advice was to always put the students first - ‘Ensure that the chairman is always meeting the needs of the students and one can never go wrong.’ I always remembered, and adhered to those wise words.”

Over the course of his career, Professor Silverman acted as a consultant to numerous organizations including the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, U.S. Department of Defense, Southern Regional Education Board, Danish Atomic Energy Commission, South Korean Atomic Energy Commission, Boris Kidric Institute for Nuclear Science of (Yugoslavia), U.S. Department of Commerce Cooperative Technology Program, and several industrial companies. Silverman published hundreds of papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals in radiation chemistry and radiation engineering, radiation-induced polymerization, radiation modification of polymers, pulse radiolysis, and nuclear engineering. During his tenure, he directed more than 40 Ph.D. dissertations, and tens of M.S. theses. Indeed, he was one of the most distinguished radiation chemists in the world.

Professor Silverman was an outstanding person in every sense of the word. He will be sorely missed. 

Published November 7, 2019