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Gschneidner Jr., Karl A.

Published onAug 13, 2021
Gschneidner Jr., Karl A.

(November 16, 1930 — April 27, 2016)

Quick Facts

Karl Gschneidner, nicknamed “Mr. Rare Earth”, is considered the world’s foremost authority on rare earth science, technology, application and utilization.


Gschneidner was born in Detroit, Michigan, on November 16, 1930, to Karl Gschneidner (Munich, Germany), a tool and die maker, and Eugenie (Zehetmair) Gschneidner (Kempten, Germany), a homemaker.

He showed an early interest in chemistry and physics, and later attended college at the University of Detroit, earning his BS in chemistry in 1952, with minors in physics and mathematics. While at the University of Detroit, he was active in the Chemistry Club and was president for 18 months.

As a student, Gschneidner was interested in metallic elements and their alloys. His interests, coupled with a job as a graduate research assistant at the Ames Laboratory with respected physical chemist Frank Spedding, led him to what became a life-long fascination with rare-earth materials.

In 1956, he took a job as a graduate teaching assistant in the mechanical engineering department at Iowa State University, teaching introductory metallurgy and materials science. In 1957, Gschneidner received his PhD in physical chemistry with minors in physics and metallurgy. His dissertation examined rare earth–carbon systems and several rare earth carbide families.

Gschneidner then became a staff scientist in the chemical and metallurgy division, working on the physical metallurgy of plutonium alloys of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where he was eventually promoted to section leader.

He was briefly employed (1962-63) as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the department of physics and wrote a classical review, “Physical Properties and Interrelationships of Metallic and Semimetallic Elements” (cited over 950 times).

In 1963, Gschneidner returned to Iowa State University as an associate professor of metallurgy, and was promoted to full professor in 1967.

He was named a Distinguished Professor of Science and Humanities in the Department of Metallurgy by Iowa State in 1979, and is currently a senior metallurgist and group leader at the Ames Laboratory.

Over the course of his 61-year career, Gschneidner earned the nickname “Mr. Rare Earths.” He has published more than 500 articles in peer-reviewed journals plus more than 170 chapters in books and conference proceedings, and he holds 15 patents. Most of that work that have has examined the physical metallurgy of rare earths, as well as their magnetic, thermal and electrical behaviors. He is also the author or co-author of several books.

Another area of interest is his research on the magnetocaloric effect. His research with his close colleague Distinguished Professor Vitalij K. Pecharsky led to the discovery of the giant magnetocaloric effect in 1997, which has been cited over 1,500 times as of mid-2013. In addition, his leadership with Astronautics Corporation of America resulted in the construction, testing and demonstration of a proof-of-principal magnetic cooling machine, also in 1997. Today, more than 200 magnetic cooling devices have been constructed worldwide. These have made Gschneidner a leader in the development of magnetic refrigeration, a more environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional gas-compression technology.

By 2009, Gschneidner became of aware of the real possibility of international rare earth materials shortages, which posed a threat to consumer electronics and automotive industries, as well as to national energy and defense security. In addition to his research work, he became an advocate for a renaissance in rare earth materials research and innovation in the U.S.

In 2010 and 2011, he testified before the U.S. Congress House Subcommittee on Science and Technology. He urged legislators to invest in scientific research and technology development, and to train students and scientists who are needed to return the U.S. to rare-earth materials independence and world preeminence.

Gschneidner was named chief scientist for the Critical Materials Institute, an Energy Innovation Hub formed in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Energy under leadership of the Ames Laboratory. The CMI was created to research alternative materials and technologies for rare earth and other critical materials.

He has received many awards, including the William Hume-Rothery Award in 1978 from the Metallurgical Society of AIME (American Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum Engineers) in recognition of outstanding scholarly contributions to the science of alloys. He was named a Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University in 1979. He also received the Frank H. Spedding Award in 1991 for distinguished contributions in the field of rare earth science by the Rare Earth Research Conference, Inc.

In 2007, Gschneidner was elected to the National Academy of Engineering as a member, cited for contributions to the science and technology of rare-earth materials.

In 2008, he was awarded the Acta Materialia Gold Medal, an international award sponsored by the Acta Materialia Inc. (a non-profit organization that publishes three of the top scientific journals in the materials field) to recognize leadership in materials research.

Gschneidner Jr. passed away on the morning of April 27 at the age of 85. 

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