Professor Frank Adcock

Remembering a Quiet Builder and Conscientious Teacher

T.R. Anantharaman
(Alumnus of the First Batch)

When I joined the three-year B.Sc (Hons) Chemistry course in July, 1944 at the Presidency College, Madras, it was taken for granted in my family that I would get into the famous Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore for a Diploma course or for doctorate research, after qualifying for my degree in 1947. The impact of Professor Sir C.V. Raman and his monumental research contributions in Physics was so great on young minds of my generation in South India in those days that it was considered an honour and achievement for a science student to join his Institute, then popularly know as the Tata Institute. Two elder brothers of mine had already been to this Institute and a third was poised to join a year later. In fact, the only three Diploma (D.I.I.Sc) courses then offered by the Institute viz., in Electrical Communications Engineering, Electrical Technology and Chemical Engineering, had already been chosen by my elder brothers and I was wondering around 1945 what I could possibly do, since I did not really wish in this matter to follow on the footsteps of any of my elder brothers! I prayed to God that He should show me the way!!

My prayers were answered, as it were, when news trickled down to Madras during 1945 that a new Department of Metallurgy was being started at the Bangalore Institute and that one Dr. Frank Adcock had been invited from the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, U.K., as Professor of Metallurgy on a three-year contract to plan the Department and organize its laboratories to facilitate admission of the first batch of students in August 1947. I was delighted to acquire these and other details from my elder brother then studying at Bangalore in the Department of Chemical Engineering. In fact, I embarked straight-away on some serious library work at my college, as also at the nearby University library, to understand what Metallurgy was all about.

During 1946-47 i.e. my third and final year of the Honours course in Chemistry, I had to choose a special subject (what one would call an elective today) and felt far from happy to learn that our college offered a choice between just two subjects viz., Biochemistry and Tinctorial chemistry, even though many more subjects were listed in the syllabus. I studied the entire syllabus carefully and was thrilled to find “Metallurgical Chemistry” among the ten special subjects already approved by the Senate of the University! It was then not difficult to persuade our Professor, who liked me very much and generally listened to me as the first ranker of the class, to drop Tinctorial chemistry and replace it by Metallurgical chemistry for the year 1946-47!! (Actually this special subject proved popular and was taught for many more years).

Armed with an impressive academic record – FIRST RANK in school final, Intermediate in science and B.Sc (Hons) Examinations-and also with Metallurgical chemistry as a special subject in the degree course, I applied with tremendous confidence for a seat in the newly offered three-year D.I.I.Sc course in Metallurgy at Bangalore. Imagine my shock and disappointment, when I received in July the ominous news at Madras that my name was not in the first list of eight students admitted to the new course! I decided quickly on what to do and took the next train to Bangalore!!

In those days the Department of Metallurgy consisted just a small shed, partitioned into three very small rooms, one for Professor Frank Adcock, then Head of the Department, another for a class room to seat a maximum of 12 students and the middle chamber for the Departmental office, presided over by the genial Head Clerk, Mr. H.S. Annaji Rao. The area where the Department is presently located was then completely open and there were indications that some building work for the Department would start there soon. In fact, the modest shed housing the Department was located in a corner of the same area viz, that corner which came first when you walked from the hostel side. As I came to know later, the Department had a sanctioned staff of one Professor, one Assistant Professor and four Lecturers, of whom the first mentioned i.e. Professor Adcock (Physical Metallurgy) and two lecturers viz, Mr. J. Balachandra (Electrometallurgy) and Mr. S.S. Ghosh (Fuels) were actually in position in August 1947. Later in the year Mr. K.K. Majumdar joined as Lecturer in Minerological Chemistry and Ore Dressing and early in 1948 Dr. E.G. Ramachandran returned immediately after his Ph.D work in Sheffield University as Lecturer in Physical Metallurgy. Later I came to know that Dr. B.R. Nijhawan, who was to take over after many years as the first Indian Director of the National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur, had been appointed as Assistant Professor of Process Metallurgy and would join the Department some time in 1948. Actually, he did not turn up at all!

To return to my admission problem, I reached Bangalore on a pleasant, cool morning in late July and called on Professor Adcock without losing much time. Dressed in his usual half pants and shirt, he received me with that friendly informality which endeared him to all people who came to know him and heard patiently my sad story of getting rejected from that very course for which I had prepared myself for over a year with great zeal and exemplary perseverance. He reacted sympathetically, called for my application, examined it carefully and then asked me whether it was not a fact that I had already done a course in Metallurgy at Presidency college, Madras! I almost broke down, but managed to explain to him that I was a graduate in chemistry who chose in the final year of his three-year course “Metallurgical Chemistry” as a special or elective subject, only to qualify better for the Metallurgy course, I was very keen on at the Bangalore Institute. He was convinced in no time, called Annaji (as Mr. Annaji Rao was called by all) and dictated in my presence a brief letter to the then Institute Director, Sir Jnan Chandra Ghosh, which ran somewhat as follows:

"Dear Sir Jnan,

I wish to recommend hereby the admission of Mr. T R Anantharaman to the Diploma course in Metallurgy

With kind regards,

Yours Sincerely,

(Frank Adcock)"

Thus I eventually joined first batch of Metallurgy students at this famous Institute on August 1, 1947 i.e. exactly 50 years ago!

We were eventually ten students in that first batch-the eleventh after a month and the twelfth later and we learnt soon enough that none of our teachers had a degree in Metallurgy and also that none of them had ever been associated with teaching in a Metallurgy Department! Neither these disturbing facts nor the obvious over-dose in our curriculum of Engineering Drawing, Chemical Technology, Electrical Engineering etc, taught by teachers of other Departments, worried us very much. We knew that we were pioneers and had to put up with inconveniences and abnormalities in that role.

Our teachers were all good and conscientious however, and none more so than Professor Adcock himself. Finding that Dr. Nijhawan might not join the faculty before our two-year instructional period ended (the third year was to be devoted to research or dissertation work), he decided to teach us Extraction Metallurgy, even though he was a metal physicist essentially and had to study several aspects of Chemical Metallurgy himself, before teaching us. But he did a wonderful job and enjoyed doing it. I still remember vividly his well-organized lectures laced with humorous anecdotes, particularly the beautiful sketches of the Blast Furnace, the Bessemer Converter etc, which he used to draw on the blackboard.

As my first academic year, a very eventful year with India becoming independent on August 15, 1947 and the Father of the Nation getting assassinated on January 30, 1948, was coming to an end, Professor Adcock became concerned with what he thought of as rather inadequate instruction given to my batch in the important subject of Iron and Steel Technology. By that time, perhaps, it was becoming obvious that Dr. Nijhawan might not after all join as Assistant Professor of Process Metallurgy, even though he had not yet declined the Institute offer. After a good deal of thought Professor Adcock took up the matter earnestly with the Institute administration and recommended that the money saved against the Assistant Professor’s post may be utilized to give meaningful practical training in Ferrous Process Metallurgy to my batch. His concrete proposal-it was rather bold and original at that time-was to send us for TWO MONTHS of well-supervised training either at the Tata Iron & Steel Works, Jamshedpur, or at the Mysore Iron & Steel Works, Bhadravati, with our return rail fare paid along with a per-diem (or D.A) of Rs.4/- during the training period. We felt most grateful to Professor Adcock for this gracious gesture that was just characteristic of the conscientious teacher that he was. Thus I sweated out the summer of 1948 in the cauldron that Jamshedpur was in May-June that year. Professor Frank Adcock played an important role in the founding of the Indian Institute of Metals (IIM) and the National Metallurgical Laboratory (NML). He was a Founder Member of IIM and a member of the Planning Committee for NML.

I returned, along with my classmates, back to Bangalore for the second year of our Diploma course and learnt to our dismay that Professor Adcock had already left Bangalore after the expiry of the three-year contact with the Institute. It was as though “the light had gone out of our lives and there was darkness everywhere”. The Department building planned meticulously by Professor Adcock was just coming up, some items of equipment had arrived, but had yet to be installed, advanced metallurgy subjects had to be taught in our second year and at this critical juncture, the leader was – gone! We were left with just four lecturers, none of them metallurgist, to shape us in the crucial year!! We missed Professor Adcock very badly indeed that year.

Before our second academic year ended, I was fortunate to be selected for one of the ten Nuffield Foundation Vacation Scholarships in Extractive Metallurgy, to undertake practical training during summer of 1949 in any Common wealth country, I chose to go to Australia partly because my boyhood cricketing hero, Sir Donald Bradman, was there, but mainly, because Professor Adcock had already been at that country for some months as Director of Research, Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) Steelworks, with his laboratory at the Newcastle steel complex. He was happy to hear about my choice and helped me through letteres to go through many a formality I was not familiar with-after all, that was my first overseas trip! For instance, because of the then Australian Government’s so called WHITE (ONLY) POLICY, I had to give a legal undertaking that I would not remain in Australia for more than three months!!

I had a glorious time at the BHP Steel Plants in Newcastle and Port Kembla. The journey by boat from Colombo to Sydney via Freemantle and Melbourne took 18 days-as a strict vegetarian I suffered a great deal, ate very little, lost a few kilograms in weight and was brught back to health and cheer gradually by both Professor and Mrs. Adcock, who had me in their home for may a Dinner. My training was immensely useful and my Report on the same was highly appreciated by the Nuffield Expert Committee headed by the Nobel Prize Winner in chemistry, Professor Sir Alexander Todd (later Lord Todd) of Cambridge University. In fact, my Report was ranked SECOND among the ten reports of that year and this achievement was duly conveyed in writing to the Director, Indian Institute of Science, by the Nuffield Trust in London. Professor Adcock was also very happy with my Report.

As I left Newcastle finally, the whole Adcock family-Professor Adcock, Mrs. Adcock, his mother-in-law and the younger of the two sons, still staying with them-was there at the Railway Station to see me oof and to wish me a hearty bon-voyage. This moving farewell scene is strongly etched up in my memory. I can never forget what all I owed to this outstanding scientist and friendly teacher. Not may connected with our Department may know that long before he came to India, Professor Adcock had already distinguished himself in England, first as a physicist through the development of ADCOCK ANTENNA, and later as a metallurgist through the establishment of the detailed IRON-CHROMIUM PHASE DIAGRAM. However, he rarely spoke of his work and achievements. Indeed, rather short in stature and self-effacing by nature he was a model of humility, humor, kindness and conscientiousness.

As the Department of Metallurgy, which Professor Adcock established at our great Institute as its Founder Head celebrates its Golden Jubilee, all of us, students, staff and alumni of this now fully grown and famous Department, will do well to remember and revere, to thank and try to emulate this quiet builder and conscientious teacher from the far-off land.