Biography and Tributes

Casting Course
Brimacombe Prize
Lecture Award
Brimacombe Fund


On October lst of 1997, J. Keith Brimacombe was appointed the first President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This enterprise, newly established by the Federal Government of Canada, was provided with one billion dollars of funding with the objective of strengthening the nation's research infrastructure in universities, and hospitals. Sadly, Dr. Brimacombe was able to serve only three months of his term, succumbing to a massive heart attack on December 16, 1997, at the age of 54. Prior to his appointment with the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Dr. Brimacombe held the Alcan Chair in Materials Process Engineering, The Centre for Metallurgica1 Process Engineering, at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

He was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Alberta and received his undergraduate education at UBC obtaining a B.A.Sc. (Hons.) in 1966. With the support of a Commonwealth Fellowship, he traveled to England and studied under one of the great metallurgical thermochemists, F.D. Richardson, F.R.S., at Imperial College of Science and Technology in the University of London where he received a Ph.D. in 1970. Subsequently he was awarded the D.Sc. (Eng.) in 1986 by the University of London and an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering degree in 1994 by the Colorado School of Mines. He returned to UBC in 1970 to establish courses and a research programme in metallurgical process engineering. He remained at UBC achieving the rank of Professor in 1979, Stelco Professor of Process Metallurgy (a chair endowed by Stelco) in 1980, Stelco/NSERC Professor (a chair endowed by Stelco and NSERC) in 1985 and the Alcan Chair in 1992. One of the finest metallurgical engineers on the world stage in the twentieth century, Dr. Brimacombe pioneered the application of mathematical models, industrial and laboratory measurements, to shed light on complex metallurgical processes spanning both the ferrous and non-ferrous industries during his twenty-seven year career at UBC. For his ground-breaking research he earned the reputation of being one of the most innovative intellectual giants in the field for which he earned global recognition.

During his tenure at UBC he built a large collaborative research group in metallurgical process engineering consisting of about seventy faculty, graduate students, research engineers and technicians. Much of the research was conducted in close collaboration with Canadian companies such as Stelco, Hatch Associates, Algoma Steel, Western Canada Steel, Sidbec-Dosco, Ivaco, Cominco, Noranda, Inco, Alcan, Domtar, Canadian Liquid Air, and Liquid Carbonic. The thrust of the research was the development and improvement of metallurgical processes such as continuous casting of steel, flash smelting of lead and copper converting, rotary kilns, and microstructural engineering of steel and aluminum, and D.C. casting processes. This body of work led to three hundred publications and nine patents as well as two books. In 1985, in cooperation with faculty colleagues, he founded the Centre for Metallurgical Process Engineering and was named its Director at UBC. The purpose of the Centre is to strengthen the interdisciplinary approach to metallurgical process research and to broaden the field of application to materials other than metals. For this body of research he was awarded the B.C. Science and Engineering Gold Medal (1985) and the Ernest C. Manning Prize (1987) and before that the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship (1979) from NSERC. He also received the following awards: TMS-AlME Charles Herty Award (1973 and 1987), AMS Marcus A. Grossmann Award (1976), TMS Extractive Metallurgy Science Award (1979, 1987 and 1989), ISS John Chipman Award (1979, 1985 and 1996), TMS Champion H. Mathewson Gold Medal (1980), ISS Robert Woolston Hunt Silver Medal (1980, 1983 and 1993), ASM Henry Marion Howe Medal (1980 and 1985), TMS Extractive Metallurgy Technology Award (1983 and 1991), the Williams Prize of the Metals Society (U.K.) (1983), the ISS Mechanical Working and Steel Processing Conference Meritorious Award (1986 and 1996), the ASM Canadian Council Lectureship ( 1986) and the CIM Metallurgical Society Alcan Award ( 1988). In 1981 he delivered the Arnold Markey Lecture to the Steel Bar Mill Association. In 1987 he was made a Distinguished Member of the Iron and Steel Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1988 he became a Fellow of the CIM and in 1989 he delivered the TMS Extractive Metallurgy Lecture while being awarded Fellowship in TMS. Also in 1989, he was awarded the Izaak Walton Killam Prize for Engineering by the Canada Council, joined the Board of Directors of Sherritt Gordon Ltd., received the Bell Canada Corporate-Higher Education Award and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1990 he received the Meritorious Achievement Award of the Association of Professional Engineers of British Columbia and a UBC Killam Research Prize. In 1992 he was honoured with the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation and in 1993 delivered the Howe Memorial Lecture of the Iron and Steel Society and became Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. In 1994 he presented the D.K.C. MacDonald Memorial Lecture; and in 1995, he was the Inland Steel Lecturer at Northwestern University and received the Ablett Prize of the Institute of Materials. In 1996 he delivered the ASM Edward DeMille Campbell Memorial Lecture and in 1997 received the AIME Distinguished Service, and was elected a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Engineering. In June 1997, he received Canada's highest scientific honour, the Canada Gold Medal in Science and Engineering from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. In 1998, Dr. Brimacombe was posthumously awarded the Benjamin Fairless Award by the AIME and the Inco Medal by the CIM at their centennial celebration.

Beyond the quest to generate knowledge and train young people he was driven by the desire to see the fruits of his research implemented in industry. Not satisfied that publications in peer reviewed journals are an effective means of reaching out to the shop floor, where knowledge implementation creates wealth, he worked tirelessly at the University-Industry interface to make the transfer of knowledge to industry a reality. A gifted speaker, he was renowned for his ability to translate complex research results to changes that are required to the process for improved quality and/or productivity. Thus he was sought after by the global metallurgical industry and presented over fifty courses in companies in every continent. A course on continuous casting of steel offered annually in Vancouver, under his directorship attracted participants from around the world. He seized the opportunities provided by the revolution in computer technology to help further the transfer of knowledge, and since the early eighties drove the development of user-friendly mathematical models as a means of transferring research results to industry. Dr. Brimacombe was also instrumental in developing "smart" systems for the transfer of knowledge and spearheaded the development of an expert system for diagnosing defects in steel billets which is being marketed commercially. A recent project involving Canadian companies is the development of a "Smart Process" in which knowledge is made to work in the process through the use of an on-line expert system and sensors.

He gave unreservedly of his time to professional societies which are a vehicle for knowledge transfer and professional development of materials engineers. He was the only professional who was President of the three major societies serving materials engineers in North America; The Met. Soc. of CIM in Canada in 1985, The TMS of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) in 1993 and the Iron and Steel Society of AIME in 1995. His enthusiasm for professional societies was infectious and has led to the initiation of a very dynamic student chapter at UBC.

He served on the Killam Research Fellowships Committee of the Canada Council from 1982 to 1985 where he initiated the Killam Prize in Engineering and worked on other committees of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the Science Council of British Columbia and the Canadian Steel Industry Research Association. He served on the Boards of the Iron and Steel Society and the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS) in the U.S.A. He served on numerous committees in these societies including Joint Commission and Board of Review of Metallurgical Transactions, Book Publishing Committee, Awards Committee, Extractive Metallurgy Sub-committee, Nominating Committee and Long Range Planning Committee. In 1989 he assumed responsibilities as Founding Chairman of the TMS Extraction and Processing Division, in 1993/1994 was TMS President and in 1994/1995 was Founding President of the TMS Foundation. In 1990 he was named as an Eminent Scientist to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Centre for Materials Research. In 1995 he was Chairman of the Science Policy Committee of the Royal Society of Canada and was a member of the National Materials Advisory Board (U.S.A.). In 1996 he was elected Vice President of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada and was appointed to the Board of the United Engineering Trust. He served on the Board of Trustees of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) since 1993; had he lived, he would have become President of AIME in 1999.