Lehigh University lost a beloved teacher and research giant on Dec. 18 with the passing of Robert D. Stout ’41G, ’44G, who served as a mentor to three generations of Lehigh students during a career that lasted more than 70 years.
Stout, dean emeritus of the graduate school and professor emeritus and former department chair of materials science and engineering, died two weeks before his 98th birthday.
A pioneer in the field of welding materials, Stout remained an active researcher through his 70s, his 80s and his 90s, from his retirement in 1980 until 2011. With funding from federal and private agencies, he helped develop steel alloys that have been praised for their superior weldability, ductility, toughness and lifecycle costs and used in new bridges in several states, including Missouri and West Virginia.
“The Lehigh community has lost a gracious and consummate scholar,” said Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “Bob Stout’s accomplishments as a teacher and researcher were matched only by his generosity with his time and his energy.”
“Bob Stout set a standard for service that will not soon be equaled,” said David Wu, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and Iacocca Professor. “His legacy will live on in the enduring impact that he had in his field and in the many students he mentored throughout his incredible career.”
“As a scholar and a scientist, Bob Stout was first-rate,” says Edward Kottcamp Jr. ’56, ’57G, ’60 Ph.D., a former professor of metallurgical engineering at Lehigh who later became executive vice president and vice president for research at Bethlehem Steel.
“Bob was also an extremely patient and kind person,” said Kottcamp, who studied with Stout as a student and later conducted research with him on pressure-vessel steels. “And he found a home at Lehigh. He was attracted to Lehigh because he was able to pursue the things that interested him most.”
No time for retirement
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Penn State University, Stout began his Lehigh career in 1939, when he enrolled as a graduate student and was appointed an instructor in the metallurgical engineering department, now the department of materials science and engineering.
He was named department chairman in 1956, and in 1960, he became dean of the graduate school, a position he held until his retirement in 1980. In the 1980s, he began working at Lehigh’s ATLSS (Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems) Engineering Research Center as a research fellow and adjunct professor.
One of the many students whose lives Stout touched was John Gross ’44, ’48G, ’55 Ph.D., who enrolled as a freshman in Stout’s metallurgy class. The two developed a deep friendship and professional bond and, in retirement, spent more than two decades conducting research into high-performance steels in the ATLSS Center. Their work was funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Navy, the Welding Research Council and the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Six years ago, a copper-nickel-blend plate steel developed by Stout and Gross was approved by the Federal Highway Administration. In a subsequent project, the two researchers developed and tested 23 different steel compositions before confirming the superior corrosion-resistant properties of a second alloy.
“Bridges in Missouri and West Virginia have been erected with the new steel, and more are on the way,” said Gross. “So when you drive over new bridges, you are driving over new steel the two of us developed.”
Setting, and achieving, a vision
“Bob Stout was a very dedicated engineer,” said John W. Fisher, founder and former director of the ATLSS Center. “He did a great job working with students. It’s remarkable that he stayed with his area of research, presenting his work and writing technical papers, for nearly 30 years after retiring from Lehigh.
“From the time ATLSS was founded in 1987, Bob and John Gross were involved in developing new high-performance steels. They had a vision for what they wanted to do and they accomplished it.”
Alan W. Pense ’59G ’62 Ph.D., former university provost and former dean of the engineering college, studied with Stout as a graduate student and in recent years watched Gross and Stout work in the ATLSS Center.
“While other scientists were using much more elaborate and more modern methods for their research, John and Bob used very old, traditional methods created in the 1930s and ’40s,” said Pense. “Nonetheless, they moved ahead in the creation of new high-performance steels while they were in their 80s and 90s.
“Bob was a good teacher, good mentor and good researcher. He was a perfect gentleman. He always treated people right.”
A kind mentor, a record of giving
Kate Arico ’06, ’07G, an account manager for Informetric Systems Inc., worked with Stout and Gross to develop a multivariable regression analysis that related the composition of experimental steels to their corrosion performance. The analysis was the subject of her M.S. thesis in industrial engineering.
“It was an absolute pleasure working with Dr. Stout,” said Arico. “He was such a kind man and he was always willing to share his knowledge and experiences with me. He taught me a great deal about the steel industry, and more importantly he helped me prepare for opportunities ahead.
“It was always clear that Dr. Stout loved Lehigh. He took pride in his work, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from him.”
Stout and his late wife, Elizabeth, traveled the world as a result of his career. Widely published, he was a fellow and former president of the American Welding Society and a fellow of the American Society for Metals International. He received many awards and national honors.
Stout also received accolades from his colleagues and students for his contributions to the quality of materials science education. In 1981, the Robert D. Stout Distinguished Professorship was established in his honor. The chair is currently held by John N. DuPont, professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Center for Integrative Materials Joining Science for Energy Applications at Lehigh.
In 1996, Stout received the Lehigh Distinguished Alumni Award. Later, a state-of-the-art welding testing laboratory was named after him in the ATLSS Center.
In memory of his wife, Stout created the Elizabeth V. Stout Dissertation Prize Fund, which is awarded annually to a doctoral candidate in each of Lehigh’s four colleges. Among numerous philanthropic endeavors, Stout gave a generous gift to Lehigh’s Leadership Plaza.
In an article published by the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin in 1993, Stout said, “My career started with a practical background in the steel industry. My bent is to be practical rather than theoretical and it seemed appropriate to get into welding. It involves all aspects of metallurgy and it’s been challenging.
“I didn’t know it would be quite so challenging.”
In an interview in 2003, Stout said, “It’s a case of simply keeping busy. I think staying active will help you live longer.”
“Bob Stout was a classic example of a person who lived a full life,” said Edward Kottcamp. “For somebody to be so productive so late in life is absolutely remarkable.
“We should celebrate that life. He lived well into his 90s, he was extremely successful, and he was deeply loved.”
Stout is survived by a daughter, Hollis Giammatteo ’73G, of Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Stephen Barth