Cyril S. Smith

Cyril S. Smith, 1975

Professor Cyril Stanley Smith (1903 - 1992) had a long and distinguished career as an industrial metallurgist, professor of metallurgy and historian of technology and science at the University of Chicago and at MIT. Although dedicated to active research in physical metallurgy, early in his career he developed a deep interest in the history of his discipline, as well as in the historical interactions of science, technology and art.

Professor Smith’s important contributions to the nature of structure in inorganic matter began with the application of simple topology to the shapes of metal grains and then, by extension, to all levels of the structural hierarchy. Eventually his work included exploration of the structures, on different scales, underlying patterns in both art and science. From 1927 until 1942, he was a research metallurgist at the American Brass Company, where he received some 20 patents and contributed numerous papers to technical publications. Then, he briefly served with the War Metallurgy Committee in Washington, and joined the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos where he directed the preparation of the fissionable metal for the atomic bomb and other materials for nuclear experiments. He received the Presidential Medal for Merit for this work in 1946.

Professor Smith then joined the University of Chicago, where he founded and directed of the Institute for the Study of Metals, the first interdisciplinary research organization dealing with materials in the United States. AT MIT Professor Smith received a joint appointment in the Departments of Metallurgy and Humanities to “encourage the understanding of human history and human activity through the scientific investigation of the material record of the past.” He used the methods of the materials engineer to explore the technologies behind the production of art and archaeological artifacts. The Laboratory for Research on Archaeological Materials, which Dr. Smith established at MIT in 1967, led to the founding 10 years later of the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology.

Professor Smith was named by President Truman as one of the original nine members of the general advisory committee to the Atomic Energy Commission. He also served on the Committee on Science and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences, the President’s Science Advisory Committee and the Smithsonian Council. He was the first chairman of the board of governors of Acta Metallurgica, a leading international journal, and a member of the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He was also a member of the American delegation to the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955.

Dr. Smith received the Francis J. Clamer Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1952, the 1961 Pfizer Medal from the History of Science Society and the 1961 Gold Medal of the American Society of Metals. In 1963 he received the Douglas Medal from the AIME, the third time that society had chosen him for an award. He received the Leonard da Vinci Medal from the Society for the History of Technology in 1966, the Platinum Medal of the Institute of Metals in 1970. In 1991 Professor Smith received the Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics for “pioneering the use of solid state physics in the study of ancient art and artifacts to reconstruct their cultural, historical and technological significance.”


“Art, Technology, and History.” April 10, 1975. Building 10.