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August F. Witt

Professor August F. Witt, a longtime faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, died Oct. 7 of gastric cancer. He was 71.

Witt was known not only for his research in electronic materials, but also for his years of devotion to teaching undergraduates. Witt taught Introduction to Solid State Chemistry (3.091) for more than 20 years, teaching half of MIT’s undergraduates, said Professor Merton C. Flemings ’51, a former department head.

Professor Subra Suresh, the current head of the department, praised Witt for his commitment to undergraduates. “His passion for undergraduate teaching and his strong concern for the welfare of the MIT undergraduates were extraordinary,” Suresh said.

Witt studied with Joliot-Curie

Witt was born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1931. He conducted graduate research in Paris from 1953-54 with Irene Joliot-Curie, a 1935 Nobel laureate in chemistry. His study of nuclear chemistry led him to radiation research at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, England, and he received his PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Innsbruck in 1959.

Shortly after, Witt came to MIT as a research associate in what was then the Department of Metallurgy. Two years later, in 1962, he was named an assistant professor; his research focused on the processing and characterization of electronic materials. He was promoted to full professor in 1972.

Research earned many awards

Witt earned numerous awards and honors throughout his 40-year career at MIT, including NASA’s Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award in 1974 for his work on materials processing in space for the Skylab project. In 1976, Austria presented Witt with the Exner Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Science and Technology. He was also a member of numerous academic and research societies.

Witt was also lauded for his non-research efforts. In 1990, he was named the first recipient of the Amar Bose Award for Sustained Efforts in Undergraduate Teaching. In 1993, he was elected as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, the highest teaching award given by MIT.

Memorial service to be held

Witt is survived by his wife, two sons, and daughter. A funeral Mass will be held at Saint Mary’s Church, 155 Washington St., Winchester, Mass. at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions may be made to the August F. Witt Student Fund in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. An on-campus memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.