George Irwin was professor emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Lehigh University and the University of Maryland at College Park. George Irwin served as Boeing University Professor at Lehigh from 1967 to 1972. As a physicist, he developed new ways of analyzing structural failures due to cracks.

Prior to joining academia, Irwin was head of ballistics branch and later superintendent of the mechanics division at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington D.C.

Early in his career he was involved in the development of the fundamental principles of fracture mechanics, a specialized field of engineering. He made technical contributions toward improvements in armor and in gunfire-resistant structures for the Navy and Army during World War II.

Irwin’s research turned the mechanics of cracks and fractures into an engineering method applicable to a variety of materials including structural steels.

As a writer of technical papers, he introduced basic concepts and tested procedures on the force of ballistics. Based upon his findings, the Navy developed nonmetallic armors for fragment protection that were used extensively during the Korean and Vietnam wars. His research has been praised as a major influence in the modern study of fatigue crack growth in structures and building materials.

He was a recipient of numerous awards, including the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award; Award of Merit for the American Society of Metals; Innovative Award for the University of Maryland and the C.B. Dudley Medal for the American Society for Testing Materials, which was established as an annual award in his honor in 1978.

He was awarded an honorary election to the Royal Society of London and the German Society for Testing Materials. Irwin was a consultant in mechanical engineering until a year before his death in 1998.