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4 new named profs in engineering

1:06 p.m., Sept. 9, 2005--Four members of the University of Delaware College of Engineering faculty have been appointed to endowed professorships, UD Provost Dan Rich has announced.

Suresh Advani has been named George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Guang R. Gao has been named Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, John W. Gillespie Jr. has been named Donald C. Phillips Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Norman Wagner has been named Alvin B. and Julia O. Stiles Professor of Chemical Engineering. The appointments were effective Sept. 1.

Suresh Advani

Suresh Advani, who has helped drive important advances in the science of composites manufacturing, has been named the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Delaware.

Advani said he is honored by the selection and “very appreciative that the University is sensitive to recognizing the contributions various people are making and rewarding them for those contributions.”

Advani, who is associate director of UD’s Center for Composite Materials, studies polymer and composite processing and rheology and has developed a computer-based virtual simulation of the composites manufacturing process.

Since joining the UD faculty in 1987, Advani said he has seen great changes in composites manufacturing. “When I first started here, composites manufacturing was more an art than a science,” he said. “People were skeptical about the use of science-based principles.”

Suresh Advani, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering

To make composites, manufacturers must put fabric in a mold, close the mold and then inject a resin. It is vital that the resin covers all the areas between the fibers of the fabric but the manufacturer cannot know that has happened until the resin cures and the mold is opened. If something has gone wrong, the material is discarded.

“The simulation is helpful in that you can run the process on a computer beforehand and so determine where best to inject the resin so it completely covers the fibers,” Advani said. “More and more people manufacturing composites are using simulations before making the composite.”

Advani said his job involves both research and education, not only of UD graduate and undergraduate students but also of other researchers and industrial manufacturers. To that end, he teaches a course in composites manufacturing and holds technology transfer workshops to demonstrate the value of simulations.

Another area of research of interest to Advani is the potential use of carbon nanotubes in composite materials, and he has National Science Foundation funding to explore this field.

Carbon nanotubes are “very tiny particles, almost like soot, but very strong,” Advani said, and he is considering how they behave in flow to see if he can improve fiber and resin components.

Two years ago, Advani took an interest in the development of fuel cells, which are of international importance as governments seek more efficient use of energy and fuels that are more environmentally friendly. “The biggest problem with fuel cells is cost,” he said. “The materials are expensive, the manufacture is very difficult and time consuming, and the performance to date is not what it could be.”

For clean energy to be affordable, researchers need to develop a basic understanding of what is happening in the fuel cell, Advani said, and only then can they make the modifications that will reduce costs.

This professorship honors the memory of George W. Laird, an alumnus of the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering. A 1964 graduate of Hamilton College, Mr. Laird then attended UD, where he was awarded a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering with highest honors in 1968 and a master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1971. He was killed in a tragic accident on Sept. 6, 1977, at the age of 35.

The funds for this endowment were provided through the George W. Laird Fund in Mechanical Engineering, which was established in 1991 through a gift from the George W. Laird Computer-Aided Engineering Foundation. This foundation was established in 1987 by Mr. Laird’s father, William W. (Chick) Laird, to provide support to the University of Delaware’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Advani earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India, and a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Guang R. Gao

The University of Delaware’s Guang R. Gao, whose leading edge work in high performance computing could have an important influence on the future of the field, has been named Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“I am very happy,” Gao said of the appointment. “I am very grateful to the administration and to the colleagues who have supported me in this process. Also, I feel this is a huge challenge to continue my work.”

Gao and his research group came to UD in 1996 from McGill University in Montreal with a focus on high performance computing. The research grew from his doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he received his master’s degree and doctorate after earning a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in Beijing.

“This is a very important subject and a very important time,” Gao said, noting mounting Japanese challenges to the supercomputing supremacy traditionally enjoyed by the United States. “Supercomputing is at the heart of our technology, and we cannot afford to lose.”

Guang R. Gao, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Gao’s research is in the area of highly distributed computer systems, as he develops architecture to make thousands of processors work together smoothly and efficiently by dividing various tasks among them. The work is conducted through the Computer Architecture and Parallel Systems Laboratory (CAPSL).

His Efficient Architecture for Running Threads (EARTH) project provides computers the coordination to work with millions of threads, or sequences of instructions executed in parallel with other sequences, to complete a computational task.

Through the years, Gao has played an important role in large national high-end computing projects. In the late 1990s, he led a UD team in work with Hybrid Technology Multi-Threaded (HTMT) architecture, providing the first petaflop computer architecture in the world. A petaflop is a measure of processing speed and provides for 1,000 trillion floating-point operations per second.

Currently, Gao is part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project to develop the first workable multi-petaflop architecture by 2010. UD is working as part of a group led by IBM and its role is to study memory models to support fine grid paradigms for data processing.

As part of that work, Gao has developed a unique vision in a location consistency model that contends “the world of data need not be coherent as long as it provides consistent answers.”

Gao also is involved in software optimization and is collaborating with IBM on multicore processing in which each individual computer chip features hundreds of processing cores.

On campus, Gao was instrumental in developing a supercomputing center at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute that provides for bioimaging and computational biology.

Thomas Sterling, a principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the world’s leading experts on high performance computing, said Gao’s work is paving the way for the future of the field.

“In my view,” he said, “Gao’s work in the area of parallel computing is some of the most innovative and deep work of anything I know going on in this country today.”

Sterling said the high performance computing community has been “inordinately conservative” in the area of large parallel computers and has been reluctant to invest in needed research and development. “Still,” he said, “Gao has continued to work in this area, and his work is not only important intellectually but, ultimately, will contribute greatly to the future of high end computing.”

Sterling said his colleague “has established the foundation for what will be a renaissance of high end parallel computing,” adding, “There is much pent up value in the work at Delaware, which is waiting to break though this lethargy and atrophy of vision in high end computing.”

Gao has high praise for UD, which he said “has given me the freedom to grow at every turn. The environment here is such that I can use all my energy to do the things I want to do, and that is very important.”

John W. Gillespie Jr.

John W. Gillespie Jr., who directs the University of Delaware’s internationally recognized Center for Composite Materials, has been named the Donald C. Phillips Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Jack is one of a handful of visionary leaders of the composite materials community in the United States,” Eric Kaler, Elizabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering and dean of the College of Engineering, said. “His research has opened up new areas of work, and his skill in leading the UD Center for Composite Materials to new heights has been phenomenal. His high research profile and dedicated leadership make him an ideal named professor."

“I am very honored,” Gillespie said of the appointment. “The named professors are a very prestigious group of faculty members, and I certainly am honored to join that group.”

Earning a named professorship is one of those “times of reflection that enables you to look back at what you have accomplished and put things in perspective,” Gillespie said.

John W. Gillespie Jr., Donald C. Phillips Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Gillespie has been director of the Center for Composite Materials since 1996. Under his leadership, CCM is now home to four centers of excellence, two involving the Army Research Laboratory, one the Office of Naval Research and another the Federal Aviation Administration, for commercial applications of composites in aircraft.

Much of that work is done in conjunction with more than 60 companies that are part of a consortium sponsoring research at the center, a number that has tripled over the last five years. “We are very proud of our centers of excellence and close partnerships with industry,” Gillespie said.

“Composites are lightweight manmade materials that offer multifunctional properties that cannot be obtained from the constituents,” Gillespie said, noting that advances in nanotechnology and in the manufacture of new multifunctional composites are providing for a number of interesting features.

The work is highly interdisciplinary and there is “strong faculty, staff and student involvement,” Gillespie said. “We have around 40 affiliated faculty from more diverse areas of research than at any time in our history.”

“Our affiliate faculty and research professionals are seeking to incorporate communications and power sources into the composite structures, to embed fiber optics and to provide self-healing materials that can repair themselves,” Gillespie said. “Others are working on flexible displays made of polymers as well as nanocomposites that offer levels of flexibility and extremity protection never seen before.”

More than 120 projects are ongoing at present, he said.

Gillespie’s own composites research is in the areas of processing science, mechanics, design, interphase science and experimental methods. He works closely with the UD Center for Innovative Bridge Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where he and his colleagues have pioneered the application of composite materials for bridge infrastructure applications.

Gillespie has served as a member of the prestigious and influential National Research Council Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design and is chair of a recently completed study of the National Materials Advisory Board Committee on High-Performance Structural Fibers for Advanced Polymer-Matrix Composites.

He has served as editor of the Journal of Thermoplastic Composite Materials since 1993 and serves on numerous editorial boards.

Gillespie was a co-recipient of the U.S. Army’s Paul A. Siple Memorial Award for his research on processing of multifunctional armor materials.

Gillespie holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, all in mechanical engineering, from UD. He began working at the Center for Composite Materials in 1981 and holds joint appointments as a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Tsu-Wei Chou, Pierre S. du Pont Chair of Engineering at UD, served as Gillespie’s faculty sponsor. “I have been truly amazed at how Jack has successfully managed the Center during a period of tremendous vacillation in the composites industry itself and in patterns of funding for basic research in this field,” Chou said. “Jack's vision, diligence and total dedication have had a profound and sustained impact on the education and research program in the college. I am very proud of his accomplishments and appreciate the contribution he has made to the university.”

This professorship honors Donald C. Phillips, an alumnus of the University of Delaware’s Class of 1948, who through his estate provided a generous gift to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Mr. Phillips, an Army veteran of World War II, earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering and went on to lead an accomplished career as a construction engineer, retiring in 1984 after 20 years with Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. of Omaha, Neb.

In addition to this professorship, Mr. Phillips’ gift has provided funding for a second professorship in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the establishment of a department endowment and support for the DuPont Hall expansion project. The civil and environmental engineering conference room and the bridge engineering laboratory housed in DuPont Hall have been named in honor of Mr. Phillips and in recognition of his generosity to the University of Delaware.

Norman Wagner

Norman Wagner, a University of Delaware researcher who has attracted international attention for his work with the Army Research Laboratory on a liquid body armor project, has been named the Alvin B. and Julia O. Stiles Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Norman Wagner, Alvin B. and Julia O. Stiles Professor of Chemical Engineering
Wagner said he is “ecstatic” about the appointment, particularly given that as a new member of the faculty 14 years ago he knew Prof. Stiles, the late UD chemical engineering professor and benefactor for whom the professorship is named.

“It is truly an honor to receive this named professorship, particularly given the name it is associated with,” Wagner said. “I know the benefactor and have much respect for him as a scientist and engineer. This is an encouragement and will enable me to explore new ideas and areas.”

Wagner, who has been a member of the UD faculty for 14 years, is working in several key areas of research, including shear thickening fluid that is best known for its use as liquid body armor.

Also, he is studying pancreatic cancer in cooperation with researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, molecular transport in plants, directed self-assembly and rheology.

“The liquid body armor project is a really good example of why I have remained at UD,” Wagner said. He explained that while working on shear thickening fluid, he attended several forums at UD’s Center for Composite Materials at which he met representatives of industry and the Department of Defense and learned of a pressing need for a more flexible and stronger material for use in protective clothing.

“If we had not heard about the need, it might not have occurred to us to make the connection that Kevlar coated with shear thickening fluid can provide a higher level of protection,” Wagner said. “That is an important paradigm for UD. With its proximity to industry and government laboratories, we are able to apply basic science by finding novel applications.”

The liquid body armor has applications for soldiers and civilian authorities, making materials virtually impenetrable, and also in the medical field, where accidental needle sticks are a concern.

Wagner is studying the molecular structure of cells, and specifically, the modeling of the transport of pharmaceuticals through the human body, in cooperation with researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He is developing molecular simulations to engineer polymers for potential pancreatic cancer therapy, applying the principles of chemical engineering to the human body.

In addition, Wagner is working to understand transport in plant cells to better understand how plants grow and how they respond to drought, as part of a National Science Foundation Nanotechnology and Interdisciplinary Research Initiative (NIRT) team studying directed self-assembly of nano-scale structures and is heavily involved in rheology, the science of how things flow, and efforts to develop an international-class laboratory on the UD campus.

“We are trying to make the world a better place through science and engineering,” Wagner said. “In chemical engineering, this is a very exciting time with many new opportunities in biotechnology.”

Wagner received a bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a doctorate from Princeton University, and has spent his entire academic career at UD.

“I have benefited from a good administration, both at UD and in the College of Engineering, and good mentors in the department who have created an environment in which young faculty members can develop their careers and are encouraged to stay here,” Wagner said.

Article by Neil Thomas
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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