Metallurgist Stan Abkowitz ’48 still wears his MIT class ring, the gold smooth after 68 years. “All metals are good metals, depending on their purpose,” he says.
Abkowitz would know. He is a pioneer in the development of titanium metals and alloys and holds 24 U.S. and international patents in materials development and manufacturing technology. At the U.S. Army’s Watertown Arsenal Laboratory in 1951, he invented the most commercially successful titanium alloy, Ti-6Al-4V, which is still in use today. And it was the large-scale production of this alloy for the U2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane, starting in the ’50s, that jump-started the titanium industry.
In 1972, Abkowitz founded Dynamet Technology; decades later, his company merged with RTI International Metals and soon was acquired by Alcoa. Abkowitz is now a senior technical fellow at Alcoa Titanium & Engineered Products in Burlington, Massachusetts, where at age 89 he works on powder materials operations alongside his daughter, Susan, general manager of his division.
“Retirement is not for me,” he says. “Work is my golf course.” He thinks of new business possibilities while shaving, he says.
The author of Titanium in Industry in 1955, the first book published on titanium, Abkowitz also wrote a monograph in 1999, The Emergence of the Titanium Industry. Later he earned the inaugural achievement award from the International Titanium Association and the lifetime achievement award from the American Society for Metals International. Abkowitz’s inventions include advanced materials for energy, defense, medical, and aerospace applications such as missile and aircraft components, as well as composite materials for medical implants.
Abkowitz was an ROTC student at MIT, where he studied chemical engineering. “As a freshman in uniform, one morning I remember walking down the Infinite Corridor, and walking in the other direction was MIT president Karl T. Compton,” he says. “I actually shook as I saw him approaching and saluted as I passed. I was so nervous because of the awe and respect I had for him as president of our great school.”
He and his wife, Lorraine, have three children and four grandchildren. An avid Boston Red Sox fan, Abkowitz likens baseball to successful entrepreneurship. “You need creativity to get to first base, passion to get to second; you must be willing to take risks to get to third and have a grand vision to get you home.”
This article first appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.