Robert Martin Burnswas born in Longmont, Colorado on January 9, 1890. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1915 and remained for the M.A. degree which he received in 1916. During this period. he was an instructor in chemistry. His studies were interrupted by the first World War in which he served as a Second lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service. After his discharge in 1919, he entered Princeton University where he received the Ph.D. in 1921. Although he did his thesis work with Dr. H.S. Taylor in catalysis, he learned electrochemistry from Dr. G.A. Hulett's lectures.
After graduation, he was with Barrett Co. for a year and then joined the Engineering Department of the Western Electric Co. which in 1925 became Bell Telephone Laboratories. Actually, he was rejoining the company he worked for from 1904-1910 before he went to college. He was made Chemical Director in 1945. In 1951, he was appointed chemical coordinator. He retired from Bell Labs in 1955 and became scientific advisor to Stanford Research Institute and to Sprague Electric Co. Later he was appointed Director of the European Office of the Stanford Research Institute.
At Bell Laboratories, Dr. Burns created an atmosphere for basic research and organized research groups in many fields related to communications, such as, battery components, capacitors, magnetic materials, electronic devices, insulators, and piezoelectric materials. He also organized a group of specialists in experimental techniques to aid in the research. He himself was an authority in the field of corrosion.
Dr. Burns was very much interested in professional societies and played a leadership role in many. He was particularly active in the affairs of The Electrochemical Society which he joined in 1922. In 1926, he became Chairman of the Committee on Sections. In 1931, he was elected Treasurer of the Society in which he served until he was elected President in 1943. In 1947, when Dr. Fink retired, he became Secretary of the Society. At that time, the Secretary was also Editor of Society publications. Dr. Burns carried on this work for two years. In 1950, he became consultant to the Editorial Staff and, in 1951, Chairman of the Publication Committee which he held until 1957. He was instrumental in the change from preprints to abstracts of articles for meetings, and from the Transactions published twice a year to the present monthly Journal.
Dr. Burns received many honors: the D.Sc. from the University of Colorado; the Perkin Medal of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1952; the Willis R. Whitney Award of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers in 1953; the Acheson Award of ECS in 1956 and and in 1959 he was made an Honorary Member of The Electrochemical Society.