In Memory of Malcolm B. Polk, the First African-American Professor in MSE
Dr. Malcolm B. Polk, 79, Professor Emeritus in the former School of Polymer, Textile & Fiber Engineering at Georgia Tech (one of the two precursors to the current School of Materials Science & Engineering), passed from complications arising from an operation on May 23, 2017.
Dr. Polk received his degrees in Chemistry at the University of Illinois (B.S. 1960) and University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D 1964), followed by employment as a research chemist in the Plastics Division of the E. I. DuPont Co., Experimental Station, Wilmington, DE (1965-72). Leaving industry to join the Chemistry Department at Atlanta University, he developed and directed the Industrial Chemistry and Polymer Research Center Programs (1973-85). After joint collaborations with the faculty at Georgia Tech, Dr. Polk joined the then School of Textile Engineering in 1985 as the first African-American professor in the School's 88 year history, where he served with distinction until his retirement to Emeritus status in 2003.
Dr. Polk's research interests included the synthesis of liquid crystalline polymers with unusual structures, e.g., STAR polymers, synthesis and characterization of polymers, and temperature resistant polymers. His research program was fruitful, resulting in a series of internationally-recognized journal papers, PH. D. and M. S. theses and world-class graduates from his group. Dr. Polk was instrumental in developing the curricula for the new degrees in the Polymer, Textile & Fiber Engineering Program in 2002, insuring that the polymer content was incorporated at the highest level and rigor. Significantly, Dr. Polk was a collegial partner to his colleagues and a beloved teacher to the students in his classes and research groups. Dr. Haskell Beckham, who joined the School as a young faculty member in 1993, noted "Malcolm was a mentor and a scholar. My life, and those of many others, has been enriched by knowing, working and learning from him. He will always live on through the memories and continuing work of those who knew and learned from him." Dr. Malcolm B. Polk will be sorely missed, but cherished and honored by all who had the honor and privilege of working with him.