Speer receives Bessemer Gold Medal, top metallurgy award

A Colorado School of Mines professor of metallurgical and materials engineering has been awarded the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining’s Bessemer Gold Medal, one of the world’s top prizes in metallurgy and materials, for his outstanding contributions to and leadership in the steel industry.

John G. Speer, director of the Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center and the John Henry Moore Distinguished Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, was presented with the medal July 11 at the annual IOM3 Premier Awards Dinner in London. In November, Speer will deliver the Bessemer Lecture in Sheffield, UK, after taking part in a one-day master class for select young engineers in the steel industry.

Speer was honored for his efforts as a member of numerous professional societies and his innovations in third-generation advanced high-strength steels, which are critical to maintaining the competitiveness of steel for use in vehicles. The award also cites his significant contributions to workforce development—attracting students to careers in the steel industry and educating its future leaders.

Speer joins a prestigious list of scientific, business and political luminaries who have received the award: Johan Brinell in 1907, famed for his method of measuring the hardness of materials; steel magnates such as Andrew Carnegie in 1904; and even royalty—Queen Victoria in 1899, Queen Elizabeth II in 1969 and, most recently, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 2013.

Established in 1874—the same year as Mines—the medal has been referred to by others as “the Nobel Prize of the steel industry.”

“It is very gratifying to me that through this award the IOM3 has also recognized Colorado School of Mines and the Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center as global leaders in the metallurgical engineering and materials communities,” said University Emeritus Professor David Matlock, who cofounded ASPPRC.

Speer said he is awed to be in such company, and is quick to point out that his contributions were made with the help of many graduate students, through collaboration with numerous colleagues and with support from various industrial partners, particularly those in ASPPRC.

What makes receiving the Bessemer Medal even more special for Speer is that he earned his PhD in physical metallurgy from Oxford University. “Going back to the UK to receive the award and deliver the Bessemer Lecture allows me to reconnect with the community there and to thank them for their contributions to my success,” Speer said.

Speer said his success can be attributed to an ability to distinguish a good idea and pursue it. “The most fun part of research is seeing ideas put into practice,” he said. “What rewards me most is seeing my work come to market in better-performing products.” With that in mind, ASPPRC researchers work closely with companies to learn what is needed in advanced steels and focus on solving those problems. In turn, ASPPRC has enjoyed continuous financial support for more than three decades.

Speer’s connections to steel run deep. He grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, home of Bethlehem Steel Corporation—at one time the United States’ second-largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder. His father and maternal grandfather made steel for the company, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in metallurgy and materials engineering from Lehigh University, just down the street. After earning his PhD, he worked at Bethlehem Steel for 14 years before joining Mines in 1997.

In addition to his professorial duties, Speer served as Mines’ associate vice president for research from 2008 to 2013. He is president-elect of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, a distinguished member of the Association for Iron and Steel Technology and a fellow of ASM International. He has received numerous awards throughout his career.

MME Professor and Department Head Angus Rockett said the department is fortunate to count Speer among its faculty. “In addition to his research, John is also appreciated for the gentle wisdom and kind consideration he brings to everything he does,” Rockett said. “He is a remarkable teacher, researcher and colleague and we are proud of his accomplishments and applaud him for his contributions.”

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) is a UK institution that promotes and develops all aspects of materials science and engineering, geology, mining, mineral and petroleum engineering and extraction metallurgy.

Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3361 | erusch@mines.edu

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