Three Former MIT Professors DieBy Vinu G. Ipe
'47, professor of material sciences and engineering, died Wednesday.
EAPS professor dies
. Willett, who taught meteorology, specialized in short-term climatic fluctuations, variable solar influences, long-range weather forecasting and pioneered efforts to develop five-day weather forecasting techniques.
Willett, who came to MIT in 1929, was instrumental in the development and adoption of the polar front theory of weather prediction by what is now the National Weather Service.
"Meteorologists have become convinced that climatic conditions on earth follow a cyclical pattern which will become clearer as our statistical records extend over longer and longer periods," he once said. Willett also suggested that cyclic changes in the sun might also influence the earth's climate.
Willett did extensive surveys of weather conditions, going back to prehistoric times, to back his theories.
Chemist synthesized penicillin
Sheehan, who taught organic chemistry, was well known for his research on the chemical synthesis of penicillin, research which led to the development of many tailor-made forms of the drug. The production of synthetic penicillin in the laboratory solved one of the major problems of modern chemistry.
The natural mold process used to grow the lifesaving drug proved very time-consuming when it was desperately needed in World War II. Armies of scientists working through the war were unable to synthesize penicillin, leading some chemists to conclude that it could not be done.
Sheehan began working on the synthesis of penicillin at MIT in 1948 and achieved total synthesis nine years later, Tech Talk reported. He also produced an intermediate compound in the form of a basic penicillin nucleus. By adding various chemicals to this compound, he was able to make new, specialized penicillins for particular uses.
Sheehan also researched the synthesis of amino acids, alkaloids and steroids. During World War II, he was co-developer of the large-scale method for manufacturing the important military high explosive RDX, or Cyclonite.
Sheehan died of heart failure at his home in Key Biscayne, Fla. He was 76.
Course III professor dies
Averbach died in his sleep at his home in Belmont after a long struggle with cancer. He was 73. He joined MIT in 1945 as a research assistant in what was then the Department of Metallurgy.
Averbach, whose research and teaching interests ranged from steel to shellfish, published more than 200 papers on a variety of materials subjects, including the determination of atomic arrangements in amorphous materials, developments in analytical techniques using X-ray, electron, and neutron diffraction. Some of these papers also dealt with transformations in steels,and fracture phenomena in ships, pipelines and aircraft.
For many years he was a leading worker in a national effort involving the MIT Sea Grant Program to develop uses for chitin and chitosan, the natural polymers derived from the shells of crustaceans. Averbach succeeded in turning these substances into a translucent film which is edible, biodegradable, and strong. The film had applications as a food wrap and surgical dressing.
Averbach was also active in the development of new materials with high-fracture toughness for bearings used in high-speed aircraft engines and in advances in magnetic and optical recording.