Alan D. Roberts sent shockwaves through the rubber industry in general and in the field of contact mechanics in particular when he and two colleagues devised what is now known as the JKR Equation.
In short, Roberts—the “R” in the acronym that names the equation—helped to formulate the theory of adhesive contact between two elastic bodies, utilizing a balance between stored elastic energy and loss in surface energy.
The method to studying adhesion and friction, first published in 1971, has become one of the most widely used devices for research on surfaces and interfaces.
But Roberts, the 2014 Charles Goodyear Medalist, may have made his greatest contribution to his field with his work on a product that helped to withstand shockwaves on a much grander scale.
During his four-decade-long career at England's Malaysian Rubber Research Association—now called the Tun Abdul Razak Research Center—Roberts and his fellow scientists helped to develop building mounts that would isolate vibrations, particularly those caused from earthquakes.
The technology was perfected in the early 1970s, and a decade later one of the laboratory's first earthquake bearings was installed on a government building in San Bernardino, Calif.
“That was a real ... I was going to say a real hit, but it prevented the hit from tremors,” Roberts said, “and we were able to show it did a wonderful isolation job compared to other buildings in San Bernardino.”
The building withstood an earthquake, Roberts said, better than a local hospital “that suffered rather badly. One doesn't wish to have comparators like that.”