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Dennis Elwell (1935-2023)

We regret to report that on May 29, 2023, Dr. Dennis Elwell, one of the pioneers of the crystal growth community passed away at his home at Discovery Harbor, on the Island of Hawaii. He was 87 years old. In 1969, Dennis, with other notable British scientists and engineers, helped found and organize the British Association of Crystal Growth and was its first secretary. He received his B.Sc. in Physics with honors from Imperial College in London in 1957, and his Ph.D., also in Physics, from Sheffield University in 1960. He became a faculty member at the then Portsmouth Polytechnic (later to become the University of Portsmouth) starting in 1960 until 1975.  His initial research interest at Portsmouth was the study of the physical properties of magnetic oxides notably ferrites such as NiFe2O4 and garnets such Y3Fe5O12. This work led to his greater interest in crystal growth processes, particularly the flux growth method. He made significant contributions to the understanding of the growth mechanisms involved in making crystals from high temperature solutions and co-authored several papers with Hans Scheel, John Brice and other well-known scientists. Two of his Ph.D., students, Peter Capper and Kevin Roberts, became important members of the crystal growth field. Dennis was a prolific author, writing both scientific journal papers (~ 100 ) and books. In 1970 and 1972 he co-authored two books with Tony Pointon, “Physics for Electrical Engineers” and “Classical Thermodynamics” (Longman and Penguin press respectively) and in 1975, after many years of collaboration with Hans Scheel, their well-regarded book “Crystal Growth from High Temperature Solutions (Academic Press). In 1973, together with Tony Pointon, he started the Association of Polytechnic Teachers becoming its inaugural General Secretary where he worked hard to achieve parity between the then polytechnics and the rest of the university sector. A vison finally achieved in 1992. He spent several summers as a visiting scholar, first at the Israel Institute of Technology (1969), followed by The IBM Research Laboratories in Zurich Switzerland (1971) and then in my group at Stanford University (1974 and 1975).


In 1975 I persuaded Dennis to join my Crystal Science group full time. This was in the government funded Center for Materials Research at Stanford University. He left England in 1977 for the last time with his first wife Jean and their two daughters Kathy and Susanne and settled in California until his retirement. At Stanford he directed activities in the new area of semiconductor crystal and thin film growth and characterization using electrochemical deposition techniques. One of the unique techniques he developed was the electrorefining of Si from sand above its melting point using a high temperature flux solution. This resulted in one of 4 patents he was awarded during his lifetime. He also was instrumental in getting the Stanford Crystal Science Lab. involved in a NASA program on the growth of protein crystals, and helped found the conferences (on-going for over 30 years) devoted to this subject. He also worked on a novel technique for stirring melts during growth using low frequency vibrations, and studied the various mechanisms involved in the melt growth of crystals such as GaN and CsCdCl3. In 1979 he independently published his popular book Man-Made Gemstones (Ellis Harwood Press). Dennis was also a consultant for NASA and the European Space Agency. During his time at Stanford he became an active member of the American Association for Crystal Growth (AACG), and for many years we were co-editors of the association newsletter.


In 1984 he left Stanford to take a position as Manager of the Crystal Growth Group in the Semiconductor Materials Division of the J.C. Schumacher Co. in Oceanside CA where he worked on their new low cost, low temperature, thermal decomposition process for producing polycrystalline Si. After Schumacher, (~1986) he joined the Diamond Cubic Corp, also in Oceanside, as Director of Crystal Growth. There he worked on the controlled precipitation of oxygen and nitrogen in VLSI silicon devices. Several years later (late 1980’s) he joined the Hughes Aircraft Co. in Newport Beach as Chief Scientist/Engineer and manager of the technology Department of the Microelectronic Circuits Division. There he worked on a number patent producing projects including Multichip modules (MCM’s) for defense avionics applications (1993-1996) and the preparation of multiple ceramic magnetic tapes at high production rates (1992). He also received a patent for developing a heat absorbing material for limiting temperature through isothermal solid-solid transitions in electronic assemblies. As late as 1988 he jointly published a paper in Progress in Crystal Growth and Characterization with his second wife Marge (Simkins) Elwell on the growth of GaN. In the late 1990’s Dennis joined the short-lived San Diego start-up Magnum Defense. The goal was to develop equipment to produce biodegradable plastics. While they were successful, they could not obtain investor funding and the company was dissolved shortly thereafter.


In 2001, Dennis and Marge left the mainland and retired to Hawaii. Dennis, who loved to write, whiled away his early retirement years writing about the local Hawaiian culture. These books, Historic Na’alehu-Hawaii’s Deep South (2005), Ka’u District (2015) and History of Kahuku Ranch (Elwell Associates), one of the largest cattle ranches in Hawaii, were co-authored with Marge who died in 2016.


Dennis is survived by his third wife, Carol Ann Elwell of Discovery Harbor, daughters, Kathy Elwell and Susanne Elwell of San Francisco and San Jose respectively, and a sister, Christine Lunn of England. Dennis was very active in two religious communities in Hawaii , a Methodist Church and a Buddhist Temple. In that regard, in 2007 Dennis wrote a book called Looking for God  (Paragon Agency).


Some quotes from fellow colleagues from the mid-1970’s.


 “He is a man of great personal charm, an effective organizer, asound teacher, a popular person and a loyal colleague”, William Bardsley, RSRE Malvern.


“I am most impressed by the unusual combination of breadth and depth in his work. I consider him as one of the rare scientists in the area of crystal growth who combine a thorough and critical understanding of physico-chemical concepts with a good deal of intuition”, Prof. Franz Rosenberger. Univ Utah.


“His publications are usually substantial in content and his work is marked by originality. He has made a very real contribution to the science of crystal growth and is acknowledged internationally as a leading expert in his field”, J.W. Mullin, Univ College London.

“In spite (or perhaps because) of his quiet reserved manner, Dennis has the ability to get things done without giving offence to anyone. He has great managerial and technical ability….and to pick projects and people. …As a colleague he is reliable, efficient, hard-working and extremely stimulating.”, John Brice, Mullard Research Laboratories.


                                                                     Submitted by: Robert Feigelson, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University


Optional: Video of Dennis and Marge discussing their book on the History of Kahuku Ranch

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