Curtin, Gao named George Irwin Gold Medal awardees by International Conference on Fracture

Brown Engineering Professor William A. Curtin and Professor Emeritus Huajian Gao, along with Cambridge University’s Norman Fleck, have each been named a winner of the George Irwin Gold Medal by the International Conference on Fracture. The ICF bestows four gold medals in four categories, honoring Takeo Yokobori, Alan Cottrell, George Irwin and Paul Paris, and one silver medal, honoring Constance Tipper, every four years when the conference convenes.

Curtin’s medal is “for pioneering contributions to multiscale mechanics modeling of materials,” while Gao is being honored for “for leadership and major contributions on the mechanics of engineering and biological materials.”

Curtin rejoined the School of Engineering faculty in the fall of 2022, coming from École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. At EPFL, he served as the Director of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering from 2011-2015, and as professor since 2012.  Prior to that, he was Full Professor in Brown’s Division of Engineering from 1998-2011 and appointed as Elisha Benjamin Andrews Professor in 2006 

He was recently awarded the Distinguished Career Achievement Award at the Multiscale Materials Modeling 10th International Conference, an award that recognizes and honors an individual who has advanced the field of multiscale materials modeling through innovative, career-long research contributions. The MMM is considered the world’s largest theoretical and computational forum on multiscale materials modeling.

Curtin earned a combined four-year Sc.B./Sc.M degree in physics from Brown in 1981 and his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cornell in 1986. He worked as a staff researcher at British Petroleum until 1993, when he joined the faculty of Virginia Tech. In 1998, he returned to Brown as a professor in the solid mechanics group before departing for École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in 2011.

His research successes are primarily in the area of materials for energy-efficient transportation and generation. These include predictive theories of strength and toughness of fiber composites, dynamic strain aging and ductility in lightweight aluminum and magnesium metal alloys, solute strengthening of metal alloys including high entropy alloys, and hydrogen embrittlement of metals, along with innovative multiscale modeling methods to tackle many of these problems. 

Professor Curtin was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2005-06, was Editor-in-Chief of Modeling and Simulation in Materials Science and Engineering from 2006-2016, has published over 300 journal papers that have received over 25,000 citations with an h-index of 86 (Google Scholar), and has been the Principal Investigator many funded research projects.

Gao, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor Emeritus of Engineering at Brown and Distinguished University Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, has been honored by several professional societies for his work. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, a Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. He is also the recipient of the highest societal honors from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Society of Engineering Science, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Professor Gao received his B.S. degree from Xian Jiaotong University of China in 1982, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in engineering science from Harvard University in 1984 and 1988, respectively. He served on the faculty of Stanford University between 1988 and 2002, where he was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1994 and to full professor in 2000. Gao was Director and Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart, Germany, between 2001 and 2006. He joined the Brown University faculty in 2006.

He has more than 30 years of research experience and more than 400 publications to his credit, which have been cited by other researchers more than 37,000 times. Professor Gao's research is generally focused in understanding the basic principles that control mechanical properties and behaviors of both engineering and biological systems, and spans solid mechanics, nanomechanics, and biomechanics. He works on mechanics of thin films and hierarchically structured materials, mechanics of biological and bio-inspired materials, mechanics of nanostructured and nanotwinned materials, mechanics of cell adhesion, mechanics of cell-nanomaterials interactions, mechanics of energy storage systems, and mechanics of metallic glasses.

ICF 15 will be held June 11-16 in Atlanta, Ga. The ICF George Irwin Gold Medal was established in 2009 by the International Congress on Fracture in honor of American scientist George R. Irwin, who was a pioneer and founding father of fracture mechanics. Past George Irwin Gold Medal winners include James R. Rice (2013), who taught at Brown from 1964-81.