Professor Benjamin L. Averbach, a materials scientist and engineer whose research and teaching ranged from steel to shellfish, died Wednesday, April 1, in his sleep at his home in Belmont after a long struggle with cancer. He was 73.
Dr. Averbach, an emeritus professor since July 1990, joined MIT in 1945 as a research assistant in what then was called the Department of Metallurgy, now the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He received the ScD degree from MIT in 1947. His BS and MS in metallurgy were from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
Before joining the MIT faculty he was a metallurgist for General Electric Co. and chief metallurgist for US Radiator Corp.
Professor Averbach published more than 200 papers on a variety of materials subjects, including transformations in steels, determinations of atomic arrangements in amorphous materials, developments of analytical techniques in X-ray, electron and neutron diffraction, and fracture phenomena in ships, pipelines and aircraft.
For many years he was a leading researcher in a national effort that involved the MIT Sea Grant Program to develop uses for chitin and chitosan, the natural polymers derived from the shells of lobsters, crabs and shellfish. He succeeded in turning this substance into a transparent film which is edible, biodegradable and quite strong. The film had applications as a food wrap and surgical dressing.
An active and highly respected consultant with industry, he was involved in the development of new materials with high-fracture toughness for bearings used in high-speed aircraft engines and gears and in advances in magnetic and optical recording.
Professor Averbach was a fellow of the American Society for Metals and of the Institute of Metals. He was a member of the Metallurgical Society and of the American Physical Society. He was past president of the International Congress on Fracture and a delegate to the International Institute of Welding.
Among his awards was the Howe Medal of the American Society for Metals, awarded in 1949 to Professor Averbach and two others for a prize-winning paper.
Professor Averbach, a resident of Belmont for 40 years, is survived by his wife Gertrude; a son, Paul of New York City; two daughters, Anne Mott of Lexington and Clare Averbach of Hartford; two grandchildren; and two brothers, Philip of New York and Harold Averbach of California.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Growth and Development Fund of St. Joseph's Church, 345 Waverley St., Belmont.
A version of this article appeared in the April 8, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 26).