Engineer of the Week No. 25: Marie Laura Violet Gayler, BSc, DSc, MISI/MIM, HonMBDA (25th March 1891- 2nd August 1976) (Mrs Haughton)
Today (and every day a tooth gets filled at the dentist) we remember Marie Gayler, metallurgist, on her 128th birthday.
Marie Gayler was born in Bristol but lived most of her life in and around London. Her father was a senior civil servant, eventually the Director of Stamps and Excise, at Somerset House. Her mother, Ellen Amelia Chrismas, was an artist, a Gold Medallist of the Slade School, whose paintings were often exhibited at the Royal Academy. She and her sisters were also artistic. Somewhat surprisingly, given that money was obviously not too tight in this middle class family, it seems that she got a job as a ‘girl clerk’ with the London Post Office when she was only 16. She was educated at St Mary’s College school, London and in 1912 she gained a BSc in chemistry and mathematics from Dedford College University of London. From 1912-1915 she taught science at the prestigious Colston’s Girls’ School in Bristol but in 1915 she joined Walter Rosenhain's scientific staff in the Metallurgy Department of the National Physical Laboratory, where she would remain for the rest of her career. She and a physical chemist, Miss I. H. Hadfield, were the first women to be appointed to the scientific staff of the Department.
By 1918 she had been elected as one of only four women in the Iron and Steel Institute. From 1920 onwards she was researching and publishing papers on the behaviours of alloys. It is likely that her first public presentation of a paper was at the 1920 Institute of Metals meeting at Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness, when another femal metallurgist and Women’s Engineering Society stalwart, Constance Elam, also gave one. She worked most of her career at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, but often the metallurgists there were working on queries from the Air Ministry or the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. By 1922 she had gained an MSc and by 1925 a DSc (University of London) and was being reported as Dr Gayler. In 1934 she married a fellow NPL metallurgist, Dr John Leslie Haughton, but continued to use her birth surname for professional purposes. This was still the time of the ‘marriage bar’ which was strictly enforced in the Civil Service, but her boss at NPL was able to get a special dispensation to allow her to remain in her post after her marriage. She was one of only 5 women in the civil service who were granted this privilege. This was sufficiently significant to be reported in the newspapers at the time.
Marie Gayler's outstanding contribution was the clarifying the mechanism of age-hardening in the duralumin family of aluminium alloys, such as Y-alloy, an aluminium-nickel-copper-magnesium-silicon alloy. Nickel improves the strength and hardness of age-hardened duralumin, making Y-alloys suitable for internal combustion engine pistons, or the skin of the Concorde, in which it helps withstand the heat of air-resistance friction at supersonic speeds.
In 1935 she began her work on the behaviours of dental amalgams, which led to the first real understanding of the setting reaction in amalgam, for which the dental science field still remembers her. Marie’s retirement in 1947 was marked by the British Dental Association making her one of only 3 women ever to be made an Honorary Member and by the Institute of Metals awarding her their Platinum Medal (jointly with her husband). Her last paper, published in 1948, is the only one to report on her wartime work and is about the behaviour of mild steel and duralloys for armour-piercing projectiles. In retirement she was a consultant to the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association. She also pursued her own interests in art and sculpture, producing a head of the late Professor Hume-Rothery, which now stands in the library of the Department of Metallurgy in Oxford University. She died in Winchester in 1976 and a colleague writing in her obituary in Nature said that “colleagues remember her as a warm and helpful colleague of striking and attractive appearance”.