Profile: Ralph Bruening

It’s not unusual for a student to pass through an educational institution such as Mount Allison without knowing their professors as more than just purveyors of the curriculum. Who were your teachers before they arrived at Mt. A? How did they come to be standing at the front of the lecture hall?

These same questions run through my head in my classes with Ralph Bruening, specialist in materials science and physics professor at Mt. A. Bruening began his education at the University of Bonn in Western Germany. From there, he went on to Kiel in northern Germany to acquire his diploma, the equivalent of a master’s degree.

When I met Bruening for an interview, he graciously gave me a tour of his personal hidden lab. He showed me the x-ray diffractometer that he and his colleagues have been using to measure the crystalline lattice using the concept of Bragg’s law. This is done by using x-rays to hit the atoms, which thus form an electronic cloud. The movement of these charges re-radiate waves that determine a number of properties of the metal. Bruening is currently using the machine to work on circuit boards to test for the stress in different copper alloys.

Bruening financed his education through a scholarship. “I received my scholarship from a protestant church ..yet I am Catholic,” Bruening recalled. Taking advantage of an opportunity for a year abroad, Bruening travelled to Montreal, where he continued his research and studies at McGill University. While studying there, Bruening met his wife, Ann Rhéaume, who teaches at Université de Moncton and is from New Brunswick.

From 1984 to 1990, Bruening worked toward his PhD under John Ström-Olsen, now a professor emeritus at McGill. He researched the properties and possibilities of liquid glass using palladium, nickel and phosphorous.

After five years of bouncing back and forth between Canada and Germany, Bruening decided to take on a position at Mt. A. Bruening said he jumped at the opportunity for a long-term job and a place for his family to live. “I was just looking for a job,” he admitted.

While teaching physics to undergraduate students, Bruening has continued his research. Most professors spend one third of their time doing research, whereas Bruening often spends two thirds. In tandem with Mt. A and the Germany-based chemical company Atotech, Bruening is doing work on the properties and applications of metal oxide films. This research has all been done in the Dunn building on campus.

More information about Bruening’s research can be found on the Mt. A website.

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