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Ian Polmear AO

ian polmear

Full Name: Ian James Polmear

Original Appointment at Monash: Chair of Materials Science

Date of Application: 1967

Date of Commencement: 1967

Date of Retirement: 1991

Ian James Polmear began his engineering career at the University of Melbourne. Graduating with a Bachelor of Metallurgical Engineering in 1949, he then went on to gain a Master of Science (1956) and Doctor of Engineering (1965).

audio file
Interview with Ian Polmear (audio)

In between his studies, Polmear gained industrial experience, working as a metallurgist in the paper industry as well as the automotive and electroplating industries. For two years from 1951, Polmear worked as a research investigator at the Fulmer Research Institute in the UK. Returning to Melbourne in 1953, he took up a post in the Materials Division of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories, becoming Principal Research Scientist by 1967.

It was at this time that he applied for the position of Chair of Materials Science in the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University. At the time he applied, Polmear was in his late 30s and married with three young children. He had been at ARL for almost 15 years and was hesitant about making the change.

Polmear press release
Press release

When Polmear made his decision to accept the position, Monash University put out a press release advertising the appointment of their first Chair of Materials Science. Polmear’s appointment was within the Department of Civil Engineering and at the time – there was no suggestion that a separate Department of Materials Engineering be established.

Polmear spent two and a half years in the Department of Civil Engineering before approaching the Vice-Chancellor Louis Matheson about establishing a separate Department of Materials Engineering. After receiving approval, Ian Polmear, together with his colleagues in the newly created department, developed the curriculum for a new undergraduate course in materials engineering. The first student were accepted into this new degree in 1971.

Polmear remained Head of the Department of Materials Engineering from its establishment in 1970 until 1986. During that time he continued to engage in teaching and research. He had a keen interest in international developments in teaching as well in courses in Materials Science and Materials Engineering. Polmear also published a book, Light Alloys: Metallurgy of the Light Metals in 1981.

His research interests – which include precipitation hardening in aluminium alloys, development of high strength alloys for aircraft, metal fatigue and weldable light alloys – have led to collaborations with laboratories and industries in Australia, Britain, Switzerland, USA and Germany as well as 24 overseas visits.

light alloys by polmear

After stepping down as Head of Materials Engineering, Polmear took up the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor from 1987 until 1990. During this period he continued to teach a course in Materials Engineering, and he was also appointed a Research Fellow to continue his personal research in aluminium alloys. Polmear continued to travel overseas to attend conferences and present papers. He returned to the Faculty, and to a personal chair in 1991. Soon after he took early retirement to pursue consulting and other interests in the field of materials engineering and energy.

Polmear is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, London. In 1993 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to materials science and to engineering. In 2008, his contributions to research in the field of light metal alloys were recognised by Monash University when he was presented with a 50th Anniversary Research Award.

ian polmear 1986
Professor Ian Polmear, foundation chairman of Materials Engineering and Deputy Vice-Chancellor designate, 1986

Polmear was awarded the IMMA Silver Medal in 1988. During the presentation of this award the following statement was made:

He has always used his research work to understand and develop materials of practical engineering significance and, by the same token, has also used it to assist industry through consulting on a wide range of problems. The establishment of the Materials Engineering Department at Monash University was a pioneering activity in engineering education in Australia, initiated by Professor Polmear in 1970. This course has been an outstanding success, its graduates being sought throughout the materials industry and achieving eminence within it. It is only in the last few years that other departments in Australasia have acted on the lessons presented by the Monash department and converted metallurgy courses to materials engineering courses.

In 2002 Polmear became the second Australian to be elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Institute of Materials, formerly known as the Institute of Metals and recently in 2003 renamed the Institute for Materials, Minerals and Mining.

audio file  I J Polymer - poem written and narrated by Peter Darvall (audio)


  1. Monash University Archives, Ian Polmear Staff File
  2. Monash University Archives, Ian Polmear Interview