Robert C. O'Handley, former research scientist, dies at 70

Dr. Robert C. O'Handley

Was a longtime researcher in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Robert C. O'Handley, a former research scientist in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), died on Saturday, March 9. He was 70.

In 1981, O'Handley came to MIT as a research scientist working with Professor Nick Grant on applications of metallic glasses. Prior to MIT, he was an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Michelson Laboratory in China Lake, Calif., from 1971–74, then worked for four years at Allied Chemical Corporation on its amorphous metals development program, and then moved to IBM’s Watson Lab for a three-year position as staff scientist.

O'Handley's primary research focus at MIT was ferromagnetism and applications of ferromagnetic materials. In addition to ferromagnetic metallic glasses, his work focused on surface and thin-film magnetism, magnetic thin-film devices, active materials, and applications of materials in energy absorption and energy harvesting. O'Handley’s research projects engaged an impressive number of faculty colleagues as collaborators, including Grant, Keith Johnson, Gretchen Kalonji, Manny Oiveria, Carl Thompson, Sam Allen, Caroline Ross, Yet-Ming Chiang, David Paul, Steve Hall and Jagadeesh Moodera.

O'Handley's academic background was in physics: After receiving a BA from Marist College in 1965, he taught for two years as a Marist Brother in a New York City high school and then changed his career plan, completing an MS and PhD at the Polytechnic University (formerly the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn). His publications include nearly 200 articles in refereed journals, 20 patents, scores of conference proceedings, invited lectures and review articles. He is the author of the textbook, "Modern Magnetic Materials: Principles and Applications" (Wiley, 1999), an outgrowth of the graduate class, 3.45 Magnetic Materials, that O'Handley developed and taught alternate years from 1990 to 2008.

He contributed to DMSE’s educational programs through classroom and laboratory teaching and research supervision of undergraduate and graduate students. Many visitors, including three Fulbright Scholars, were hosted in his laboratory over the years. O'Handley retired from MIT in 2008, at which time he continued an active research role at Ferro Solutions — a wireless power transfer, sensors and energy harvester company he co-founded in 2002 — while dedicating his energy to his family and to studying classical piano.

He leaves his wife Carol; his three children and their spouses; and his seven grandchildren.

A wake will be held Wednesday, March 13 from 4-8 p.m. at the Conte Funeral Home, Florence Street, Andover, Mass. A funeral Mass will take place on Thursday, March 14 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Augustine Church, Essex Street, Andover, Mass.

If you would like to make an expression of sympathy, please contact DMSE Headquarters. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Lazarus House, 412 Hampshire St., Lawrence, MA 01841 or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

Topics: Books and authors, Materials science, Obituaries, Research, Staff


I had the great privilege of being a Postdoctoral Associate in Bob’s group from 1999-2001. I will always remember of course the endless discussions in his fantastic room at MIT (full of books from top to bottom) on theoretical and experimental aspects related to Ferromagnetic Shape Memory Alloys (FSMAs) in which he showed an unlimited patience to listen to my in many cases highly unshaped ideas. After any discussion he got the ability to clarify the way to go and providing you with the necessary sharpness to re-shape ideas.

During my career I met only a handful of examples of what I call “round scientists”; I mean exceptionally wise individuals with an exceptional human facet too that make them approachable and unique. Certainly Bob is one of them. I will treasure forever the papers we wrote together as well as all the memories of those years and the many e-mails we exchanged till recently.

Thank you Bob.

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