Coultas D. Pears

An Eminent Mechanical and Materials Engineer

Inducted in 2006

The affiliation of Coultas D. “Colt” Pears and Birmingham’s Southern Research Institute (SRI) spans 50 years, and in the study of cryogenic to high temperature materials, theirs is an achievement having few parallels. The materials evaluation facility that Mr. Pears created at SRI joined a handful of places worldwide where materials’ nondestructive testing and microscopy are performed, and thermal and mechanical properties are routinely tested and studied at up to thousands of degrees. Before him, few thought this possible, much less with the accuracy and economy Mr. Pears achieved. SRI’s high temperature mechanical and materials facility entered the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Mr. Pears joined SRI in 1957, establishing a vanguard engineering organization that regularly proffered novel means of understanding complex new materials’ behavior. In the execution of his vision, early work by his Analysis and Measurements Section evolved into a major Southern Research function—the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department. Mr. Pears became vice president of engineering at the Engineering Research Center (ERC) for which he made the layout design working with the architects and internal people. The work targeted America’s aerospace needs, stressing high-temperature technology and characterization, macrostructural modeling, failure analysis, and core technology of materials. Mr. Pears’s work was key to U.S. Department of Defense and space program successes, including Apollo and the shuttle. His findings also extend to countless other applications, including automotive engineering, pollution control, and power generation. In 1963 Mr. Pears’s work made the “IR 100,” Industrial Research magazine’s list of notable new products. His was a test furnace with record-breaking 6500-degree capability. In 1964, the American Society for Testing and Materials’ Templin Award recognized the gas-bearing tensile-stress-strain apparatus Mr. Pears developed as the year’s most significant contribution to testing.

Mr. Pears was central in growing SRI’s annual research volume to above $12 million. He anticipated areas where technical advancement would be needed and capitalized on his foresight by developing cutting-edge evaluative technologies and techniques. His work helped create more than 100 technical jobs in the state, and SRI’s new prominence drew outstanding engineers—and millions of research dollars—to Alabama. Appointed vice president emeritus and Distinguished Engineer in 1993, Mr. Pears continues to consult on institute research. His work on composite materials is still definitive, and Southern Research is a Department of Defense “critical facility.”

A U.S. Navy veteran, Mr. Pears earned the B.S.M.E. degree at Tulane University in 1949. Before joining SRI, he directed coal gasification research for the Bureau of Mines for 10 years and headed Alabama Power’s Underground Coal Gasification Project. Long dedicated to professional service, Mr. Pears chaired the ASTM Committee on Manufactured Carbon and Graphite Products for three terms and held regional ASTM offices. He received the ASTM Outstanding Service and Leadership Award.

Mr. Pears holds or shares five patents and was elected to the Alabama Academy of Science. He served on the National Academy of Sciences’ National Council and its Materials Advisory Board. Named plenary lecturer for the 1973 Carbon Conference, he presented hundreds of technical papers to the profession over the years. Mr. Pears’s pioneering work has also been extolled in numerous letters of commendation from NASA, the Department of Defense, and other sponsors.

Mr. Pears lives in Homewood with his wife, Jo. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

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