Marcel Pourbaix (1904-1998)

Marcel Pourbaix was born in Myshega (Russia), where his father was a consultant on an engineering project. He studied in Brussels and graduated from the Faculty of Applied Sciences of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in 1927. He worked for two years as assistant in Chemistry and then for six years as technical secretary of the research department of Union Chimique, Belgium. In 1937, he returned to the University of Brussels, with which he was associated for the rest of his career.

By 1938, he had devised the potential-pH diagrams for which he became famous. In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, he presented to the Faculty his doctoral dissertation, accompanied by a thesis entitled "Thermodynamics of Dilute Aqueous Solutions. Graphical Representation of the Role of pH and Potential". The war and some confusion among the jury on the sign of electrode potential impeded the completion of the graduation process and, on the suggestion of Prof F.E.C. Scheffer (Delft) the thesis was presented to the Technical University Delft.

This Delft thesis had a major influence on corrosion science. Ulick R. Evans found this work important and arranged for an English translation, published by Arnold (London) in 1949. In 1949, he was one of the founders of CITCE (Comite International de Thermodynamique et Cinetique Electrochimiques) together with 13 other electrochemists: C.Boute, J.Gillis, A. Julliard (Belgium), P. Delahay, P.Van Rysselberghe (USA), J.O'M.Bockris, T.P.Hoar (UK), G.Charlot, G.Valensi, (France), R.Piontelli (Italy), G.Burgers (The Netherlands) and J.Heyrowsky (Czechoslovakia). CITCE was a major success ; in 1971 the name was changed to International Society of Electrochemistry (ISE). The current membership is over 1100 with members from 59 countries. In 1951 he founded CEBELCOR, which became one of the world's first centres dedicated to the theoretical and experimental study of corrosion phenomena. In 1952 Pourbaix founded the Commission of Electrochemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and that Commission clarified in 1953 the chaotic state of affairs then prevailing in the signs of electrode potentials.

During the fifties and early sixties, Marcel Pourbaix and his collaborators produced potential-pH diagrams for all the elements and published the "Atlas of Electrochemical Equilibria " in French in 1963 and in English in 1966. In the sixties and seventies, Pourbaix and his group at CEBELCOR, together with graduate students from Brazil, produced major break-through in atmospheric corrosion and in localized corrosion. As early as in 1962, he introduced the concept of a protection potential against the propagation of localized corrosion , which he developed in 1963, in relation with the peculiar electrochemical conditions in occluded corrosion cells.

Marcel Pourbaix was the international collaborator par excellence in combatting corrosion. He visited and lectured almost everywhere in the world; he contributed actively to the creation of an International Corrosion Council (ICC) with the aim of encouraging research and international cooperation in corrosion science and engineering and friendship among scientists and engineers. In 1990, The National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) created a "Marcel Pourbaix Award Student Fellowship" and the ICC created in 1996 a "Marcel Pourbaix Award for International Cooperation".

Marcel was an indefatigable researcher; he recently worked on the "Atlas of Chemical and Electrochemical Equilibria in the Presence of a Gas Phase ", a work that cover an even wider field than the Atlas in aqueous solutions. With the help of his colleagues at CEBELCOR and of a team from the Shandong University of Technology, Jinan, China, part I was published in 1996 and part II is due to come out in 1998.

Marcel Pourbaix was founder, honorary director and scientific adviser of CEBELCOR (Belgian Center for Corrosion Sudy), Professor at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, co-founder of CITCE, former chairman of the Commission of Electrochemistry of IUPAC (1952), of ICC (1969), member of the Advisory Committee of Electrochimica Acta (1959-1972) and of the Executive Board of Corrosion Science.

He was awarded a number of scientific and civic recognitions : Gijsberti Hodenpijl Prize of the Technical University of Delft (1940), Whitney Award (NACE, 1968), Medaille d'Or Cavallaro (European Federation of Corrosion, 1975), Palladium Medal (Electrochemical Society, 1975), U.R.Evans Award (Institution of Science and Technology, 1979), Medaille d'Or du CEFRACOR (1985), Medaglia Luigi Galvani (1994), "Croix civique" and "Medaille de la Resistance ", for the organization of clandestine courses during World War II.

Marcel Pourbaix died at his home in Uccle (Brussels) on September 28, 1998, at the age of 94. His enthusiasm for electrochemical science will long be missed. He was interested in every individual and in all aspects of life. He was always patient and accessible to young workers, he was a very hardworking person and a fair character, always enthusiastic, and inspiring. He left a mark all over the world by his great friendship and by the example he set in his relation with others. He was most touched by music and was himself an excellent pianist, brilliant in the playing of Debussy, Ravel and many others.

His legacy in science and in humanity will surely live on.
(This is largely an abstract from "Marcel Pourbaix: A Master Corrosionist is 70" by B.F.Brown, Corrosion, vol 31, no9, 307-315, September 1975)