Bernard Queneau: Metallurgist

Alumni PhotoBernie Queneau moves at the speed of many half his age, speaks and thinks as quickly, and was in rare form during the celebration of the 75th anniversary of his graduation from Columbia SEAS at the end of May.  Bernie and his wife Esther traveled from Pittsburgh to enjoy Reunion weekend—from the Golden Lions dinner at The Russian Tea Room, to the Dean’s Day lecture, lunch under the tent, the Green Panel, and listening to the music of Columbia. 

Bernie thanked Dean Navratil for having such a friendly and well-organized Reunion. It was of special interest to Bernie personally because he was given a Golden Lions Society certificate, and the Dean presented him with a Golden Lion pin at the luncheon.  Bernie says “the school is in good hands.”

"I want to encourage all Golden Lions to attend Reunion in June, 2009,” says Bernie. “It is a great opportunity to meet your classmates and fellow Engineering alums from other years. I’m looking forward to the next Reunion; I’m hoping to see some of my former students, who are also Golden Lions!”  

During his return to the campus, Bernie pointed out the many changes that have taken place since his first year at Columbia in 1928. “There was no Butler Library, 116th Street was open to traffic and the South Quadrangle was used for varsity and intramural sports. Most of the library books were dispersed throughout the campus, the gymnasium was totally inadequate for 1,600 undergraduates and there was no student union for social activities.”

Remembering his academic studies, Bernie said all engineering students were first enrolled in Columbia College, and were required to take a two- or three-year pre-engineering course. “In 1933, engineering students were limited to the use of slide rules for almost all calculations,” he said. “These very useful portable calculators were good to only two significant figures, and large heavy mechanical calculators had to be used for additional accuracy."

In addition, says Bernie, all Columbia students were required to participate in a sport, either intramural or varsity.  Bernie chose the wrestling team, since he weighed only 125 lbs. He ended up as captain of the team as a senior in 1932, and took a silver medal in the Eastern Inter-Collegiate Wrestling finals.  

One advantage of the School in the 1930s, he said, was that the total cost of tuition, room and board, and all sundries, was less than $1,000.  

After graduating from Columbia, Bernie obtained a PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1936.  He then worked at the U.S. Steel Research Laboratory, before returning to Columbia in 1938 as an assistant professor of metallurgy. He went on active duty in the U.S. Navy in June 1941, and became Commander in charge of the Armor and Projectile Laboratory in Dahlgren, VA, in 1946. He returned to U.S. Steel as chief development metallurgist at their South Works steel mill in Chicago, then chief metallurgist at the Duquesne (PA) Works in 1951, and chief metallurgist of their T.C.I. Division in Birmingham,  AL, in 1957. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1964 as General Manager in charge of Quality Assurance for U.S. Steel. After retiring in 1977, he did consulting work and was Technical Editor of the Iron and Steel Society’s magazine until 1983. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Metals, and a Distinguished Member of the Iron & Steel Society.     

Bernie can boast that Columbia Engineering is in his genes:  his father was Augustin L. Queneau, Class of 1901, mining engineering, who received the 1960 Egleston Medal for distinguished engineering achievement for his work as the designer and developer of processes for the recovery of non-ferrous and rare metals.    

Bernie’s brother, Paul Queneau, AB ’31, BS ’32, ME ’33, known for his fundamental discoveries in the field of process metallurgy, is professor emeritus at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, where he taught from 1971 to 1987. His sister Bertile graduated from Barnard in 1930, and his sister Marguerite obtained her MA from Columbia in 1941.  

“The entire Queneau family feels that it owes a debt of gratitude to Columbia,” says Bernie. “I was very glad to be able to establish the Queneau Fellowship at SEAS several years ago. I am happy to be able to help support the education of a student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering. Columbia did a great deal for me and this is my way of helping a young person of today receive the same advantage.”

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