David Bibb Fischbach

David Bibb Fischbach

David Bibb Fischbach, an expert on the nature and properties of carbon and graphite, and professor emeritus of materials science at the University of Washington, died at home in Bellevue on February 26, 2013, with family at his side. He was 86, and had been in declining health.

Despite the chaotic appearance of his desktop, Dave was a meticulous note taker and research scientist. As an academic adviser and associate editor and reviewer of scientific papers submitted to Carbon, the international journal of the American Carbon Society, he was an exacting critic, alert to flaws of logic and methodology in his own work as well as that of others.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Denison University with degrees in math and physics in 1950, then went on to earn his Ph.D. in physics and metallurgy from Yale in 1955. That year, he joined the Materials Science Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, Pasadena, initially performing high temperature and internal friction experiments with alloys of iron and aluminum for application to rocket nozzles and, later, testing the mechanical properties of graphite. After the program was discontinued, a research exchange with the University of Wales in 1968 offered him the chance to move his family to Swansea for a year of work, travel, and cultural adventure.

In 1969, he was named a research associate professor of ceramics in what was then the Department of Mining, Metallurgy, and Ceramic Engineering at UW, rising through the ranks to full professor in 1987 in Materials Science & Engineering. He was elected Fellow of the American Ceramic Society in 1991.

Fischbach was born October 28, 1926, in Beckley, West Virginia, son of the Reverend Julius and Mildred Fischbach, and spent his early childhood in Morgantown. In 1935, the family moved to Lansing, Michigan, where he attended Sexton High School. In fall 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After completing electronics technician training, he was assigned shipboard as a radar technician, posted in the Azores off the coast of Portugal. He served for two years.

Dave met his future wife, Patricia Cunningham, at a Baptist youth camp in the summer of 1947. They kept in touch intermittently by post, and four years later a road trip offered the chance to see each other again. They hit it off, and married on June 14, 1952, in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Following his retirement from UW in 1992, he and Pat traveled widely and often. A pragmatist, humanist, and empiricist who enjoyed theater, dance, classical music, and jazz, Dave was respected by colleagues and friends for his intelligence, lack of artifice, and quiet good humor.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sister, Mary Ellen Heater, daughters Elizabeth Fischbach (partner Judy Adams) and Catherine Farrey (husband Edward), and grandchildren Elizabeth Jette (husband Levi) and John Farrey.

A memorial gathering is being planned for later in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to organizations working to promote education and alleviate hunger, inequality, and injustice.

Published in The Seattle Times from Mar. 2 to Mar. 3, 2013