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William Hume Rothery: The Deaf Metallurgist
by GP Verma

William Hume Rothery was born on 15th May 1899. His father Joseph Hume Rothery never went to school. However, he was well educated by his parents and tutors at home. He got his first class honors in physics from London University in 1866 and became 16th Wrangler of Cambridge University in 1890.

William went to school at Cheltenham, where he won a scholarship to Cheltenham College (1912-1916). A decision was taken that he must plan for a military career. His entire family supported him. Early in 1917, some unknown bug infected William and he fell victim to a vicious attack of Cerebrospinal meningitis. After a long spell of hospitalization he recovered but, was in a poor state of health. Worst still, he became totally deaf and completely unfit for military service.

Thanks to his indomitable spirit and matchless courage young William did not lose heart. Rather he now turned his thoughts to chemistry. His father’s college, Trinity at Cambridge refused him admission because of his physical disability. However, Magdaten College, Oxford accepted him. So began in 1981 an extraordinary phase in the life of William.

The gradual transformation of a young man cruelly tried by fate, into a scientist with tremendous originality is a saga of courage and conviction. William qualified for a degree in  chemistry at Oxford University with first class honors.

He then set out to London to work for his PhD under Sir Harold Carpenter, professor of Metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines.

He returned to Oxford from London in the autumn of 1925, with PhD, and was soon elected to a senior Demyship at his old college. He remained in Oxford for the remaining part of his life i.e. from 1925 to 1968.

He was married in 1931 and had a daughter in 1934. In 1935 he qualified for D.Sc. (Oxon). In 1937 he was elected Fellow of Royal society. In 1938 he was appointed lecturer in metallurgical chemistry.

In spite of his poor health, he continued to work hard, was always cheerful and full of humor, often laughing like a carefree child. He was very affectionate and considerate to his many students who were his ardent fans. William learnt to lip read although his communication with his students was generally by writing.

In 1955 Hume was elected the first George Kelly Reader in metallurgy. In 1956 Department of metallurgy was started in Oxford University and a year later he was appointed to new ISAC Wolfson Chair of metallurgy. In 1966 he retired from Oxford, however he remained active by giving lectures in other Universities and writing and revising his many books.

He had editorial work also. His “Hume Rothery Rules”, his book “Electron, Atom, Metals and Alloys” have become immortal. He was a gifted painter also. Even though he left this world on  28th September 1968 his courage and determination will continue to inspire generations to come. 

13-Jul-2008
 
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