Guide to the John E. Hilliard (1926-1987) Papers

Collection Title: John E. Hilliard (1926-1987) Papers
Dates: 1947-1986
Identification: 22/4/15
Creator: Hilliard, John E., May 14, 1926-April 17, 1987
Extent: 2 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: John E. Hilliard joined the faculty of Northwestern University's Technological Institute in 1962. His research focused on thermodynamic and kinetic processes, quantitative characterization of structure, spinodal decomposition, and compositionally modulated films. The Papers include Biographical, Correspondence, International Society for Stereology, Teaching, and Research Files.
Acquisition Information: The Dr. John E. Hilliard Papers were donated to the archives by Nedra Hardy and the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering in two accessions, on July 21, 1988, as Accession No. 88-161 and on August 26, 1988, as Accession No. 88-195.
Processing Information: Kenneth Stempel and Leon Hilton, Spring 2003.
Separated Materials: None.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Dr. John E. Hilliard was born on May 14, 1926 in London, England. He received his B.E. in Metallurgy in 1947 from Liverpool University with first class honors. Three years later, in 1950, he received his Ph.D. in Metallurgy from the same institution. Along with John Cahn, Hilliard developed the Cahn-Hilliard equation, which explained the phenomenon known as phase separation. In 1962 Hilliard joined the faculty of Northwestern University. His research focused on thermodynamic and kinetic processes, quantitative characterization of structure, spinodal decomposition, and compositionally modulated films.

After completing his doctorate, Hilliard accepted a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Research Associate, a position he held until 1956. In that year he left Massachusetts for Schenectady, New York, where he was a Metallurgist at the General Electric Research Laboratory until 1962. Concurrently, he accepted a position as an Adjunct Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1957, instructing a one semester graduate course every other year. While at G.E, Hilliard found that he could change the properties of steel through a process of heat-treatment under ultra-high pressure. His stereology research resulted in the first quantitative, three-dimensional picture of sampled materials' structures. This, in turn, led him to invent an instrument, the structure-analyzing machine (SAM). While at General Electric he became life long friends with John Cahn. Together in 1961 they developed a “simple generic equation” to explain the phenomenon known as phase separation. The Cahn-Hilliard equation has become “a pillar of materials science and engineering.” In 1962, Hilliard's impressive accomplishments caught the eye of the Technological Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he was appointed Professor of Materials Science in 1962. He was named Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science in 1971.

He did research in four areas: the study of the thermodynamic and kinetic processes in inhomogeneous systems; the quantitative characterization of structure; the theoretical and experimental study of spinodal decomposition; and the synthesis and investigation of compositionally modulated films. Hilliard was a pioneer in the latter two fields, and his publications within these areas were frequently cited by his contemporaries.

In 1968 Hilliard was inducted into the Tau Beta Pi honorary society; he was presented with the Tech Teaching Award in 1970. He wrote or co-wrote more than 100 papers, and co-editor of a book, Local Atomic Arrangements Studied by X-Ray Diffraction. He was affiliated with the American Institute of Mining; Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers and its Institute of Metals; the International Society of Stereology (for which he served as a Vice President) and the Institute of Metals in London. He was also listed in “Who's Who in America” on several occasions. John Hilliard died on April 17, 1987 in Evanston, Illinois.

Scope and Content

The Dr. John E. Hilliard Papers fill two archival boxes and span the years 1949 to 1986. The papers are organized into five categories: Biographical, Correspondence, The International Society for Stereology, Teaching, and Research Files.

The biographical file contains several curriculum vitae, a photograph, press clippings, short biographical notes (write-ups from “Who's Who”) and obituaries, arranged chronologically. Brief notes of Hilliard's professional travel engagements 1970-1972 are included. Significantly, Hilliard's physics lab notebook from his work at MIT may be found in this file.

Hilliard's correspondence from the mid 1960s through 1986 has been arranged alphabetically according to the correspondent's last name. The letters (both incoming and outgoing, as Hilliard seems to have saved both) consist of correspondence with journal editors about scientific papers, colleagues at a variety of institutions concerning research interests, and invitations for speaking engagements. His correspondence with Dr. John Cahn at General Electric and later MIT are of special significance, as the two were close friends and collaborators on several areas of research and consulted each other often.

Dr. Hilliard served as the Vice President of the International Society for Stereology starting in 1967, and his papers contain the society's corporate records and correspondence from this period. Included in the corporate records are the society's incorporation notes, by-laws, and meeting minutes. The correspondence, arranged chronologically, consists of formal business letters concerning the membership and operations of the organization.

The Teaching File consists of a list of Hilliard's publications, as well as faculty activity and effort reports filed by Northwestern in order to evaluate Hilliard's efficacy and his contributions to the life of the University.

Of special interest in the Research Files will be literature about, correspondence concerning, and the patent application for Hilliard's invention, known as the SOL-X. The Research Files also contain handwritten notes for three papers (“Spinodal Decomposition in Copper Alloys,” “Reply to Rundman,” and “Variation of Self-Diffusion with Composition”). The bulk of the Research File, however, consists of Hilliard's scientific papers published between 1949 and 1986.

Arrangement of Materials

The papers are organized into five categories: Biographical, Correspondence, The International Society for Stereology, Teaching, and Research Files.


Corporate Name

International Society for Stereology

Personal Name

Hilliard, John E.



Container List / Contents

  • Correspondence, ca. 1965-1986
    • Subject Correspondence B-GBox 1, Folder 4
    • Subject Correspondence H-PBox 1, Folder 5
    • Subject Correspondence R-WBox 1, Folder 6
    • International Society for Stereology Corporate Records, 1967-1980Box 1, Folder 7
    • International Society for Stereology Correspondence, 1967-1968Box 1, Folder 8
    • International Society for Stereology Correspondence, 1969-1980Box 1, Folder 9
    • Northwestern University Teaching Files, 1962-1986Box 1, Folder 10
    • Patent Information (SOL-X), 1983Box 2, Folder 1
  • Notes for Professional Papers or Publications
    • “Variation of Self-Diffusion with Composition”, 1957Box 2, Folder 2
    • “Reply to Rundman”, 1973Box 2, Folder 3
    • INCRA Project No. 136: “Spinodal Decomposition in Copper Alloys”, 1973Box 2, Folder 4
    • Published Papers, 1949-1962Box 2, Folder 5
    • Published Papers, 1963-1968Box 2, Folder 6
    • Published Papers, 1969-1971Box 2, Folder 7
    • Published Papers, 1972-1986Box 2, Folder 8
  • Biographical Data, 1962-1986Box 1, Folder 1
  • Travel Records, 1970-1972Box 1, Folder 2
  • MIT Physics Lab Notebook, 1952Box 1, Folder 3