Carnegie Mellon University
March 08, 2021

Remembering Harold W. Paxton

By Cindy Fusco

With sadness, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering announces the loss of Harold W. Paxton on March 8, 2021. Paxton was the U.S. Steel University Professor (Emeritus) of Metallurgy and Materials Science at MSE. 

In 1953, he joined Carnegie Mellon (then Carnegie Tech) as Assistant Professor of Metallurgical Engineering. Paxton became Head of the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, as well as Director of the Metals Research Laboratory, in 1966. He retired from active teaching in 1994, and was named a University Professor soon thereafter. The title of University Professor is the highest designation a faculty member can receive at CMU. University Professors are distinguished by international recognition and for their contributions to education, artistic creativity, and/or research. 

Born in the north of England on a farm in Yorkshire, Paxton received his B.Sc. (1947) and M.Sc. (1948) from the University of Manchester. Following World War II, he came to Carnegie Mellon for one year as a Marshall Scholar beginning in 1949. Paxton then returned to the U.K. to earn a Ph.D. in 1952 from the University of Birmingham. Carnegie Mellon recruited him to its faculty soon afterward.

An internationally recognized expert in the field of metallurgy, Paxton served as an industry consultant, authored many papers, and co-authored a book, Alloying Elements in Steel, with the late Dr. E.C. Bain that has become a standard textbook. He served as Visiting Professor of Metallurgy and Materials Science at Imperial College, London, in 1962 and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970. In 1971, he became the first Director of the Division of Materials Research at the National Science Foundation.

From 1974 to 1986, Paxton was associated with the United States Steel Corporation, serving as Vice President of Research and eventually Vice President of Corporate Research and Technology Assessment.

Paxton was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; member of the National Academy of Engineering; Fellow of the American Society for Metals (ASM); Fellow of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS); Past President of TMS; Past Chairman of the General Research Committee of the American Iron and Steel Institute; and 1982 President of American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME). Paxton was awarded Honorary Membership in AIME in 1992 “in recognition of his major technical contributions, inspirational teaching and visionary leadership in the profession of metallurgy, and of his wise counsel and selfless devotion to the work of innumerable TMS, AIME, academic, and government committees.”

Paxton’s academic and industry awards are numerous, beginning when he won the Bradley Stoughton Award for Young Teachers of Metallurgy in 1960. Paxton was selected as the 1978 ASM Edward DeMille Campbell Memorial Lecturer. In 1982, he was the BCRA Carbonization Science Lecturer and also the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Lecturer. In 1983, Paxton gave the ASM Zay Jeffries Lecture and received the ASM Gold Medal for the Advancement of Research. In 1985, he was elected an Honorary Member of the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan and delivered the Yukawa Memorial Lecture to that Institute. In 1987 he gave the Harold Moore Lecture to the Institute of Metals, London. In 1990, he was invited to give a keynote lecture at the 6th International Iron & Steel Congress in Nagoya, Japan, and was also an AIME Krumb Lecturer, Andrew Carnegie Lecturer, and Sauveur Lecturer. He has also lectured in France, the U.K., Holland, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, China, and the former USSR. In 2010, he was invited as the keynote speaker to an International Conference in Iran, but could not attend due to political strains.

In 2018, AIME honored Paxton by publishing his oral history. In his colorful recollections, Paxton reflected on his childhood attending a two-room village school in the U.K., his move to Pittsburgh, his family, and his long career at CMU MSE. Watch Paxton’s video or read the transcript at

The MSE Department expresses its deepest sympathy to Professor Paxton’s family. Former MSE Department Head, Greg Rohrer: Harry Paxton is responsible for much of what MSE is today - he was a student, faculty member, and Head of the department. His philosophy about Materials Science and Engineering research and education is carried on in all our department activities. He will be remembered as an influential leader of the MSE Department and a globally recognized metallurgist who made significant contributions to the field.