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Clive Randall, Director of the Materials Research Institute and Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Image: Penn State MRI

By Jamie Oberdick

The American Ceramic Society (ACerS) has selected Clive Randall, director of the Materials Research Institute and distinguished professor of materials science and engineering, to give the 2021 Edward Orton, Jr. Memorial Lecture at the 2021 ACerS’s Annual Meeting. The meeting will be held October 17-21 in Columbus.  

 The lecture is named for General Edward Orton, Jr., who was a military leader, ceramic engineer, geologist, academic administrator, businessman and philanthropist. He was a founder of ACerS and started the first ceramic engineering education program in America at Ohio State University in 1894. Orton lecturers are nominated by colleagues and chosen by a special ACerS committee. 

“The humbling thing about this honor is looking at the list of past Orton lecturers and seeing the names,” Randall said. “It is quite sobering given what their scientific contributions were. I see those names, and immediately the great papers of theirs that I’ve read just crystallize in my mind due to their impact on the field.” 

Randall is part of a list of past Orton Lecturers from Penn State, including names such as Gary Messing, L. Eric Cross, Robert Newnham, Rustum Roy, George W. Brindley, Elburt F. Osborn and Eric A. Walker. 

“If you look who has won previously from Penn State, it is quite an incredible list,” Randall said. “You start with Eric Walker, a major figure in Penn State history. Then there is Eric Cross and Robert Newnham, who I had the pleasure to work and publish with, and from whom I learned so much. And the last Penn State Honoria, Gary Messing, who gave the lecture in 2011, has made numerous contributions to the ceramic field including being president of ACerS, and was my department head for many years.” 

Randall’s research includes material processing, defect and crystal chemistry, material physics, and electrical properties of a broad number of electroceramics. This includes a particular focus on dielectrics and piezoelectrics and their behavior under extreme conditions. Randall’s contributions to the ceramics field are many, with a main focus on structural-property-processing relations and materials discovery.  

Most significant of these are novel processing methods such as the fast-sintering processes for multilayer ceramic capacitor devices, a method that has been adopted by major manufacturers as it permits superior microstructural and dielectric performance. Via fast sintering, trillions of capacitors are manufactured every year, and these capacitors are in all electrical systems. More recently his group discovered and developed cold sintering, a revolutionary process that enables sintering of ceramics at a much lower temperature than traditional sintering. Cold sintering uses much less energy and enables development of new materials.  

Randall noted that ceramics may be known mainly for consumer items like pottery and coffee cups, but they impact public life in many other ways.  

"Advance ceramics impact so much of our lives,” Randall said. “There are numerous uses of ceramics in the automobile, in industry, in electrical functions and in electronics. For example, ceramics are very important in electronics, as they are in many of the passive components sitting in all of the electrical systems.” 

Randall has served as director of Materials Research Institute at Penn State since 2015. He came to Penn State in 1987 after receiving his doctoral degree in experimental physics in 1983 from the University of Essex in 1987 and his bachelor’s of science in physics in 1983 from the University of East Anglia. He began at Penn State as a research associate in ferroelectrics, then became a senior research associate in 1992, an associate professor in materials science and engineering in 1994, and a professor in materials science and engineering in 1999.  

Randall was the director for the National Science Foundation Center for Dielectric Studies from 1997 to 2013. In 2013, the center was restructured, and he formed the Center for Dielectrics and Piezoelectrics, serving as a co-director until 2016. He still serves as a technical adviser.   

Along with his research leadership, Randall has authored and co-authored more than 500 technical papers and 20 patents, with over 26,000 citations, all in various aspects across the field of electroceramics. Among his many honors, he has been elected to the World Academy of Ceramic in 2006, received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control Society’s Ferroelectrics Recognition Award in 2014, and in 2019 was made honorary Fellow of the European Ceramic Society and named an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer. 

As an active member of ACerS, he was honored with the ACerS Fulrath Award in 2002 and elected an ACerS Fellow in 2005. He and his coauthors received the Spriggs Phase Equilibria Award in 2008 and he gave the Friedberg Lecture at the ACerS Annual Meeting in 2011. He received, along with his students, the Edward C. Henry Best Paper of the Year from ACerS’ Electronics Division in 2012 and 2016.  

Randall said that being honored with the Orton Lecture made him reflective about how various events, opportunities, colleagues, mentors and students influenced and inspired his career and understanding of materials. 
“When I received the news that I was selected to give the lecture, it made me remember the excitement of being a young post-doc and going to see the Orton Lectures,” Randall said. “I hope my lecture will inspire some young persons to drive change and innovation.”