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College honors distinguished alumni at Oct. 16 Engineers’ Day celebration

Congratulations to eight alumni who are 2009 recipients of the College of Engineering Early-Career and Distinguished Achievement Awards. We celebrate these influential engineers, who have made contributions in construction, infrastructure security, manufacturing, materials coatings, nuclear engineering, oil, orthopedics, and engine technologies. These engineers and executives will receive their awards Oct. 16 at an evening banquet during the 62nd annual Engineers' Day celebration.

During the banquet, the college also will recognize six faculty and staff members for their contributions and excellence in such areas as education, program support, computational methods, and technology use.

Throughout the day, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends can attend seminars that highlight the Department of Biomedical Engineering, brain-computer interface research, climate change and energy systems, a student-built snowmobile used for research in the Arctic, and a collaborative structural-engineering-based art installation. In addition, there will be college tours and departmental lunches. For more details about the event, visit the Engineers’ Day website.

Early-Career Achievement Award Recipient

Andreas M. Lippert

Samit Kumar Bhattacharyya (large image)

Andreas M. Lippert, PhDME ’99
Manager, Alternative Energy Technologies
GE Global Research
Munich, Germany

As a child, Andreas M. Lippert would run from his house to catch a glimpse of jets roaring overhead toward a nearby air force base. He dreamed of becoming a pilot until high school when one of his seven older siblings, a mechanical engineer, inspired him to design and build airplanes rather than simply fly them.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Lippert studied mechanical engineering in his hometown of Pretoria, South Africa. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before going to work in a national lab focused on aerospace. Eager to develop his technical expertise further, he applied to PhD programs and selected UW-Madison thanks to the influence of his wife, Jacqueline, who is a civil and environmental engineering alumna.

After obtaining his PhD in mechanical engineering in 1999, Lippert joined General Motors as a senior research engineer. He applied his doctoral knowledge of sprays, combustion and computational fluid dynamics toward the development of advanced internal combustion engines at GM. Lippert’s work resulted in a methodology for spray and combustion analysis in the GM research and powertrain divisions.

Lippert’s scope expanded to leadership in next generation diesel propulsion systems research and exhaust aftertreatment modeling. In 2007, he was given a special assignment to launch the Global Energy Systems Center, which analyzes energy supply chains and future scenarios to provide GM with timely business insights into energy opportunities and challenges. The center has an important collaboration with the Tsinghua University in Beijing; called the China Automotive Energy Center, it serves as a key advising institution to the Chinese government as the country develops an automotive energy roadmap.

Lippert is listed as an inventor on nine U.S. patents and has authored more than 20 research papers, conference publications and reports. He has won multiple GM technical and corporate awards and a distinguished speaker award from the Society of Automotive Engineers. In 2008, Lippert was named to the corporate scientific advisory board of Mascoma Corporation, which is developing new technologies to convert cellulosic biomass into ethanol.

Currently, Lippert leads the Alternative Energy Technologies Lab at GE Global Research in Munich, Germany, where he focuses on renewable energy, waste heat recovery, novel powerplant cycles and carbon capture. The relocation to Germany, where his parents are from, has been an adventure for Jacqueline and their children, Claudia, Karl and Gabi.

When not working or spending time with his family, Lippert enjoys surfing and admiring waves, a passion he refers to as active engagement with his love for fluid dynamics.

Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients

Samit Kumar Bhattacharyya

Samit Kumar Bhattacharyya (large image)

Samit Kumar Bhattacharyya, MSNE ’70, PhDNE ’73
Savannah River National Laboratory
Aiken, South Carolina

Samit K. Bhattacharyya is director of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River National Laboratory, operated by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC. In this position, he is responsible for the management, operations and planned growth of the laboratory.

Bhattacharyya received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering from UW-Madison in 1970 and 1973, respectively. He has been active in all aspects of nuclear technology, including 19 years in executive leadership positions at Argonne National Laboratory, culminating in a five-year term as director of the Argonne technology development division. The division was a diversified organization with several technical programs, including advanced reactors, nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear fusion, and nuclear fuel-cycle assessments. One of Bhattacharyya’s major accomplishments was developing several significant new R&D programs for the laboratory.

Bhattacharyya’s technical credentials include a 29-year career at Argonne, where he rose to the position of senior nuclear engineer. He has achieved international recognition for his technical work in advanced nuclear power systems for terrestrial and space applications. With more than 200 publications, he has been published widely and has participated in national and international conferences.

Bhattacharyya has won a number of awards for his work, including the University of Chicago Distinguished Service Award and the Argonne National Laboratory Director’s Award. He also was a principal in the DOE-EM-sponsored Large Scale D&D Technology Demonstration Project on the CP-5 reactor. The DOE recognized the project as one of its top-100 scientific achievements in the 20th century.

After leaving Argonne, Bhattacharyya created his own technical and management services company, RENMAR Enterprises Inc., which had a broad portfolio of private-sector and government clients. A highlight was his nuclear leadership of the nuclear electric propulsion probe proposed by the Northrop Grumman-led team for Project Promethous — exploring the icy moon of Jupiter — for NASA.

Bhattacharyya serves on a number of technical, corporate and civic boards. He is a fellow of the American Nuclear Society and has served on several DOE, U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA advisory boards. In addition to his engineering degrees, Bhattacharyya also earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago and is a registered professional engineer.

As a student in Madison, Bhattacharyya met his wife, Maryka, then a biochemistry doctoral student and now professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. The couple married in 1971 and have a son, Roby, who holds an MD and PhD from the University of California at San Francisco and currently is a resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In his spare time, Bhattacharyya enjoys playing tennis and traveling.

Dean A. Foate

Dean A. Foate (large image)

Dean A. Foate, BSEE ’82
President and CEO
Plexus Corp.
Neenah, Wisconsin

Dean A. Foate’s career is marked by his loyalty to a pair of colleagues and the company his father co-founded. After graduating from UW-Madison with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1982, Foate and his wife, Cindy, left Foate’s two college roommates and closest friends for Indiana, where Foate began his career designing electronic engine and transmission controls for Delco Electronics. However, it wasn’t long before the pair persuaded Foate to return to Wisconsin and join Plexus Corporation. The decision was made easier when Foate and Cindy had a son, Jake, and the family moved back to Foate’s native Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1984.

Foate began working for Plexus on Groundhog’s Day. His father couldn’t believe his son was giving up a secure job in the middle of a recession to work for the small company he had co-founded and retired from. Yet Foate and his friends were determined to become better engineers and leaders to grow the company — and that’s exactly what they did.

Foate held various leadership positions within Plexus, and when he became president of the design and development organization, he decided to seek formal training. He earned a master’s degree in engineering management from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1999, graduating with honors.

His business knowledge helped drive the growth and profitability of Plexus, which is now recognized as an industry-leading electronics manufacturing services provider with revenues of approximately $1.7 billion and the best shareholder returns among industry peers. In 2002, Foate was named president and chief executive officer of the company.

Foate credits his engineering education at UW-Madison for the communication and leadership skills he needed to launch his career. He now helps other aspiring engineers as a supporter of FIRST, a program for children to develop technological and leadership skills. He also sponsors a scholarship program and created a Plexus foundation to provide technology support to schools.

Foate is committed to promoting science and technology education in part because he believes engineering is an especially valuable profession for society. "Engineers have changed the world in everything from technology to infrastructure to communication, and engineers can make a significant impact on the quality of life around the world," he says.

In his spare time, Foate and Cindy gather with friends and family, including Jake and their daughter, Allison, at their cottage in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Foate enjoys bicycling, downhill skiing, hiking, boating and many other outdoor activities. He also is an avid traveler and has visited more than 25 countries.

P. Dan Gilbert

P. Dan Gilbert (large image)

P. Dan Gilbert, BSCEE ’66
Gilbert Mechanical Contractors Inc.
Edina, Minnesota

In 1961, the year P. Dan Gilbert entered college, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the country would land an astronaut on the moon by 1970. For Gilbert and many of his peers, the race to the moon provided the impetus to study engineering.

Gilbert grew up on the Near West Side of Madison, in the shadow of Camp Randall Stadium, in a house his parents purchased to afford their children ready access to the university. Both the stadium and the greater campus became Gilbert’s playground, where he learned to ski, box, wrestle, swim, climb buildings, and sneak into Badger football games.

As a UW-Madison student, Gilbert was interested in becoming a bridge designer. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1966 and worked for the Trane Company as a sales engineer until 1971. For the next seven years, he worked for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor, pursuing the design/construct marketplace and becoming certified in Minnesota as a registered professional engineer. During that time, Gilbert realized he wanted to run his own company. With the support of his wife, Marty, he invested their savings, leveraged their house, and founded Gilbert Mechanical Contractors Inc. in 1978.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the engineering, construction and service company grossed about $300,000 its first year. Over the last 30 years, the company has grown consistently at 18 percent per year, with 2008 sales approaching $40 million. The company designs and installs controls, electrical, fire protection, plumbing, and HVAC systems in buildings ranging from medical and educational facilities to large-scale retail, industrial and office complexes. Long active in Bible study, Gilbert says his Christian faith has helped shape his ethics and values.

Gilbert is a past president of the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association and served for 23 years as a trustee on the local plumbers and pipefitters health and welfare fund. As an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, he developed and taught Building Energy Systems, a required course for construction management students.

Gilbert also enthusiastically and actively participates in his community, extending both personal involvement and financial support to such organizations as the Salvation Army, Hope Academy (a private, inner-city Christian school), local hospitals, and others, including UW-Madison.

After 40 years of racing sailboats, Gilbert now prefers fishing for grouper and snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, he is an avid golfer, both at courses in Minnesota and in Florida, where he and Marty spend winters. The two, who celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary in August, have two children. John is an artist in Santa Monica, California, while Erika is a part-time journalist and lives with husband Dan Henschel and their two children in Telluride, Colorado.

William J. Lenling

William J. Lenling (large image)

William J. Lenling, BSMetE ’84, MSMetE ’86
Thermal Spray Technologies
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

“When I started graduate school at UW-Madison, I had no idea what a thermal spray coating was,” says William J. Lenling, co-founder and president of Thermal Spray Technologies Inc., in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He had been planning a research project for a bicycle manufacturer, but when the funding was unexpectedly cut, Lenling found himself scrambling. The late Materials Science and Engineering Professor Frank Worzala came to the rescue, involving Lenling in his research for Fisher Barton to develop coatings to make lawn mower blades last longer.

After earning his master’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1986, the Madison native — who had also attended UW-Madison to complete a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1985 — joined Fisher Barton as a materials engineer, where he continued his coatings research.

Shortly after Lenling joined the company, Fisher Barton received a U.S. Department of Energy technology transfer research grant to work on thermal spray coatings at Sandia National Laboratories. Lenling and his newlywed wife, Lynn, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work at Sandia generated the basis for multiple patents and best paper awards, and Lenling developed a comprehensive understanding of how to create coating solutions for a variety of industrial applications.

The Lenlings returned to Wisconsin in 1990, where Lenling and Fisher Barton owner Dick Wilkey decided to create Thermal Spray Technologies in 1992 as a spin-off from Lenling’s work at Sandia. Lenling was vice president when the company officially opened its doors, and he became president in 2008.

Thermal Spray Technologies has grown from a small business with a handful of employees to a thriving company with more than 75 employees and annual sales of more than $16 million. The company has developed and produced many coatings that provide critical technology to its customers’ components. The coatings are used on life-saving electro-surgical instruments, aerospace components, national defense systems, food processing equipment, agricultural machines, bicycles and motorcycles, cellular communication devices, and automotive components, among many others.

Thermal Spray Technologies has received a variety of state awards, including the Wisconsin Small Business Innovation Award for Outstanding Achievement, the Wisconsin Innovation and Research Award, and Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, along with various customer excellence awards.

Lenling has also chaired several committees for the Thermal Spray Society of the American Society of Materials. He is also a member of the Thermal Spray Society Board.

Outside of work, the Lenlings and their three daughters, Mia, Ana and Alli, enjoy many outdoor activities, including, swimming, biking, running, cross-country and downhill skiing, boating, and fishing. They are also big fans of Badger sports.

James P. Peerenboom

James P. Peerenboom (large image)

James P. Peerenboom, BSNE ’73, MSNE ’74
Director, Infrastructure Assurance Center
Associate Director, Decision and Information Sciences Division
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, Illinois

“The work we do should be useful, usable and used,” says James P. Peerenboom. It’s a comment he once heard from his thesis advisor at UW-Madison, and he and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, continue to follow the advice.

Peerenboom’s work as director of the infrastructure assurance center and associate director of the decision and information sciences division certainly fulfills those three u’s, and he views his work in homeland security as closely tied to his interests in energy systems and engineering. “Energy is the lifeblood of the nation, and natural events or terrorism-related events can dramatically affect energy and other critical infrastructure, as well as the environment in which they are located,” he says. “I use analysis techniques and modeling and simulation tools to improve understanding and inform decisions about infrastructure protection and resilience.”

The Appleton, Wisconsin, native always knew he was interested in engineering, and Peerenboom says it was a natural decision to attend UW-Madison, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1973. He says his UW-Madison education was particularly valuable because of the interdisciplinary opportunities in the College of Engineering. He was able to explore his interest in energy systems from a variety of perspectives, earning a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1974.

After graduating, Peerenboom moved to Tennessee to work as a research associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he investigated nuclear fuel-related topics. He returned to UW-Madison to obtain his PhD from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies in 1981. His research again had an interdisciplinary flavor, incorporating engineering and systems analysis into energy and environmental contexts.

He then joined Argonne National Laboratory, where he uses his systems analysis, decision and risk analysis, and advanced modeling and simulation expertise to tackle complex national problems. For the past 15 years, Peerenboom has focused on critical infrastructure protection and homeland security issues. He has supported development of infrastructure assurance roadmaps and conducted vulnerability assessments for a variety of federal departments, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Energy and Defense. He is the author of more than 80 technical publications and is a technical reviewer and advisor for multiple journals and organizations.

In keeping with his environmental interests, Peerenboom is an active outdoorsman when away from work. Along with his wife, Taffy (Jane), and daughters, Katherine and Laura, both of whom are UW-Madison graduates, Peerenboom is a frequent hiker and biker. He also enjoys woodworking.

Joseph B. Powell

Joseph B. Powell (large image)

Joseph B. Powell, PhDChE ’84
Process Development Advisor and Shell Chief Scientist
Chemical Engineering
Shell Global Solutions U.S. Inc.
Houston, Texas

Joseph B. Powell likes a challenge. “I chose chemical engineering because it was considered the most difficult undergraduate curriculum,” he says of his studies at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in 1978. At the University of Virginia, Powell assisted with continuous bioreactors, wrote a thesis about reactor control, and interned for a coal gasification project (FMC). These experiences led him to pursue an advanced degree at UW-Madison, where he worked with Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Emeritus Stan Langer on chromatographic reactors and syngas chemistry. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering in 1984.

In 1988, Powell joined Shell Development Company in Houston after four years of enhanced oil recovery research and development for Exxon. Named in 2006 as Shell chief scientist for chemical engineering in addition to his role as principal advisor for process development, Powell advises the company on technology strategy and leads initiatives in multi-throughput experimentation. He heads a network that scouts for new ideas and serves as team lead for advanced biofuels and enhanced oil recovery projects.

“I work for a major energy and oil company because I truly believe the work matters and contributes to the public good”, Powell says.

His career achievements include innovation and commercialization of new processes to produce Bisphenol-A and 1,3-Propanediol, which are used in consumer products. His awards include the Arthur Dehon Little Award for Chemical Engineering Innovation, the R&D Magazine Top-100 Award and an American Chemical Society Team Innovation Award. He is inventor on more than 45 U.S. patents and has authored numerous technical publications, including a co-edited book titled Sustainability in the Process Industries: Cases and Impact. He is a life member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and program coordinator for its process development division.

Powell remains connected to UW-Madison by leading Shell’s collaborative efforts with Virent Energy Systems Inc, a UW-Madison spin-off working to commercialize thermocatalytic routes to biofuels.

Powell and his wife, Caryn, have three sons, Jason, Matt and Stuart. On weekends, the family enjoys gathering at the beaches along the Texas coast. In his spare time, Powell is a youth athletics coach for local roller hockey, basketball and baseball teams.

Steven A. Schopler

Steven A. Schopler (large image)

Steven A. Schopler, BSME ’76
Orthopedic Surgeon and Physician
Southern California orthopedic Institute
Van Nuys, California

Steven A. Schopler has come a long way from his days biking around UW-Madison, wearing a backpack bulging with human femurs implanted with hip prostheses. As a renowned reconstructive spinal surgeon in southern California, his work continually bridges the orthopedic and engineering fields.

Schopler’s engineering interests began early. He frequently toured Midwest factories and engineering facilities with his father, who was a chemical engineer and professor. His father’s company manufactured biomedical devices, and his work inspired Schopler to pursue a career that fused engineering with medicine.

Schopler grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, next door to the late UW-Madison Kaiser Chair of Mechanical Engineering Ali Seireg, who became a mentor to Schopler. He followed Seireg to UW-Madison, where he worked on Seireg’s famous “walking-machine” for paraplegics. The machine was exhibited at the Seattle World’s Fair and the History of Medicine and Science Museum in London.

In 1976, Schopler obtained his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, graduating with honors. He stayed at UW-Madison for medical school, where he honed his interest in orthopedic surgery and earned his medical degree in 1980.

Schopler then migrated west to complete a residency at the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Orthopedics, where he combined his biomechanics and orthopedic biology studies and discovered his interest in pediatric orthopedics. After his residency, Schopler was a fellow in pediatric orthopedics at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

He returned to Van Nuys, California, and joined the Southern California Orthopedic Institute (SCOI) in 1991, where he is now a senior partner. He is also a clinical instructor in orthopedics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and past chair of the orthopedic surgery department at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, in addition to appointments at multiple California hospitals.

Schopler specializes in spinal surgery, and he has additional expertise in pediatric orthopedics and scoliosis. He relies on his engineering and medical training to develop new techniques and equipment. He is the author of numerous articles and lectures internationally on pediatric orthopedic topics and conditions. His work has helped turn the private-practice SCOI into the equivalent of a university orthopedic department.

“Knowledge of biomechanics and engineering has served me well in the evolving fields of orthopedics and spinal surgery”, Schopler says. “My friends and UW-Madison mentors provided a foundation I am proud of.”

In his spare time, Schopler enjoys skiing, visiting the beach and other outdoor activities with his wife, Robin, and two daughters, Lisa and Ellen. Schopler hails from a family of Badgers — Robin, his parents and Robin’s parents are all UW-Madison alumni, and Ellen will join them when she graduates in 2010.

Faculty and Staff Award Recipients

The College of Engineering honored 21 engineering faculty and staff members for their outstanding contributions and achievements at its 2009 Appreciation Day celebration May 5, 2009, including six who received awards from the college.

Jeffrey Stevens

The Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award —
Jeff Stevens

Engineering Media Services

Whenever a technology need arises, faculty, staff and students know whom to call: Jeff Stevens.

Nearly everyone who has ever used a lecture hall or planned an event within the College of Engineering has benefited from his technological expertise. For 25 years, Stevens has enabled multimedia applications in the classroom, from overhead projectors and transparencies in the 1980s to PowerPoint and video webcasts today. His resourcefulness, knowledge and energy drive multimedia applications from day-to-day lectures and meetings to campus events.

“He can often be seen hauling a ladder down a hallway for an emergency repair of a classroom projector between periods, or running to a classroom to help a speaker with a recalcitrant laptop,” says a colleague. And he accomplishes it all with cheerfulness and a positive, “can-do” attitude. Department chairs, program directors and other faculty and staff who have worked with Stevens uniformly praise his friendly, energetic manner.

“Jeff is one of the unseen and many times unappreciated people who make the College work every day,” says a colleague. “His contribution can most be measured in ongoing College activities: everyday classroom technology that works as expected, equipment available and set up on a moment’s notice, and interesting and creative videos produced to support College research, teaching and public service.”

In addition to providing technical support for day-to-day activities and special events, Stevens produces video that promotes the college with creativity and quality. Stevens is involved from concept to interviewing, editing and visual design. His video segments, many of which are used on the College website or at promotional events, are polished and professional, having garnered him two national awards.

“Jeff Stevens is the consummate professional: intelligent, interested, resourceful and ever willing to consider how to make sure your objectives are met,” says a colleague. “His support has made all the difference in the programs I have had the opportunity to produce with the College of Engineering.”

Paul Voyles

Harvey Spangler Award for Technology Enhanced Instruction —
Paul Voyles, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

When he saw a need for real-world examples to help students bridge the gap between theory and application, Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Paul Voyles provided them — by building an online database of real, raw research data.

Voyles teaches graduate-level courses in transmission electron microscopy, a tool for nanometer- to micrometer-scale characterization and metrology of materials and nanostructures. “One of my overall career goals is to promote the use of quantitative methods in electron microscopy; I believe that we should treat the results of microscopy experiments as data, not just qualitative pictures,” says Voyles. “The best way for students to learn quantitative microscopy techniques is to practice them by using real experimental data for homework exercises.”

Available literature provides pictures, but not the underlying data. To give his students experience in working with raw data, Voyles drew from a close source: his own research. He put entries from his own microscopy experiments into an online catalog, then gathered data from willing colleagues as well, creating the Electron Microscopy database (EMdb). Each record contains homework-style exercises as well as a description of the sample, acquisition conditions and calibration information so that users can design their own exercises as well.

“The EMdb fills a huge void once left empty in electron microscopy education by providing accessible, real-life example problems for student learning,” says a colleague.

Voyles also shares the database with researchers and instructors at institutions around the world, fostering a two-way exchange of active research data. Educators can download entire data sets to distribute to their students, and add their own research results, making the EMdb an extensive instruction and learning tool more complete and current than any textbook.

“From my experience, teaching electron microscopy is quite challenging. There are no widely accepted textbooks, and it requires a huge amount of supplementary material,” says one EMdb user. “So having all of these nicely collected and easily accessible from any computer makes a world of difference for learning electron microscopy.”

Since its public launch in 2007, the EMdb has been accessed by nearly 500 users in over a dozen countries. As one colleague said, “In short, Paul has put the UW Department of Materials Science and Engineering on the map as a place that leads innovation in electron microscopy.”

John Cannon

Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award —
John Cannon, Advanced Instrument Maker, Chemical and Biological Engineering

It might be an understatement to call John Cannon a jack of all trades.

A fixture in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering for more than a quarter-century, Cannon is an advanced instrument-maker and manages the departmental instrument shop. Yet, his experience and patience make him equally valuable as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students in the department. “John has built on his background knowledge of the chemical and biological sciences, his expert machinist skills, and his ability to effectively guide students in order to contribute to the safe and efficient operation of our laboratories and the education of our students in unique and valuable ways,” says Chemical and Biological Engineering Harvey D. Spangler Professor and Chair Michael Graham.

Cannon builds, maintains, troubleshoots and repairs laboratory equipment that includes a three-story-tall distillation column, a humidification unit with parts dating from the 1940s, decades-old experiments designed and constructed in-house, and modern commercial instruments. His work takes him into laboratories and into contact with equipment where many different chemicals are in use or were used. “John's knowledge and experience with these laboratories is a major reason these diverse experiments operate safely and effectively amid chemical and mechanical complexity and potential hazards,” says Graham.

During the academic year, Cannon sets up, tears down, troubleshoots and repairs equipment for instructional laboratories for up to four chemical and biological engineering courses, as well as two intensive five-week summer courses. In the latter, students conduct five formal experiments and four informal experiments, and Cannon teaches them how to safely operate machining equipment and serves as a resource for them as they develop their experiments. “Often, his advice brings in unforeseen aspects of materials selection, parts availability and alternative strategies that save the students time in construction,” says Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Thatcher Root. “Based on his years of experience with the lab and the varied projects proposed by a changing slate of visiting instructors and UW faculty, he can often lead the students into redesigns that expose initial misconceptions and produce more efficient problem solutions. In fact, this need for broad parts, stockroom and shop support is the major reason these informal experiments are not practical at other chemical engineering programs. John Cannon and the capabilities he provides are a key component in the unique background we provide to our BS graduates.”

Similarly, Cannon works closely with graduate students and independent undergraduate researchers, offering hands-on training that enables the students to fabricate complex parts and realize their experimental designs. In addition, he discusses those designs with the students and walks them through the details of the construction process. “The best part of this experience, in my mind, is John's ability to get students to fully think out the engineering process, from design through practical construction and then to end use, before any material is consumed or modified,” says Shoemaker Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Thomas Kuech. “This is a real-world experience in critical thinking and planning which our mostly academically trained students experience for the first time.”

Michael Plesha

James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Teaching —
Michael Plesha, Professor of Engineering Physics

Engineering Physics Professor Michael Plesha wrote the book — literally — on statics. (It’s called Engineering Mechanics: Statics; McGraw-Hill, 2009, with co-authors G.L. Gray and F. Costanzo.)

But he didn’t stop there.

Nearly a decade ago, Plesha began teaching Statics (EMA 201); with an enrollment of up to 350 students a semester, the introductory course had a reputation for dry content and uninspired delivery. His goal was to transform the course and excite students about statics, the study and analysis of structural equilibrium. Since then, he has added character, dimension and relevance to this large-scale lecture course, incorporating real-life engineering design problems, introducing applications to such emerging areas as nanotechnology, and developing a series of animations — and videos, in progress — that students say improve their understanding of statics concepts. In addition, he implemented “clicker” response pads that not only provided him real-time feedback about student comprehension of the material, but also promoted interaction among students as they discussed answers with their classmates. “Frequent student interaction and dialogue in lectures created an atmosphere that is both challenging and motivating,” says a former student. “Professor Plesha demands excellence in the classroom but always tempers his requests with a sense of respect and assurance that if a student works hard, the outcome will almost always be positive.”

UW-Madison statics students, as well as approximately 800 students per semester at Texas A&M University, have used preview copies of Engineering Mechanics: Statics for years. “Hitherto, without exception, all the major textbooks, including such classics as Beer and Johnston, were entirely focused on just engineering calculations and no indication was provided into exactly how these calculations were to be used in engineering practice,” says Arun Srinivasa, a Texas A&M associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Plesha’s thoroughly modern, 21st-century text incorporates meaningful design discussions, comprehensive treatment of free-body diagrams, structured problem-solving approaches and problem-based introduction of new mechanical concepts. Plesha and his co-authors are plowing new pedagogical ground with problem-solving methodology that helps students learn mechanics concepts and transfer that knowledge to practical engineering applications, says William Stenquist, McGraw-Hill Higher Education senior sponsoring editor. “Plesha’s statics book will be at the forefront of engineering education in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he says.

Coupled with the text, Plesha’s teaching and technological innovations in Statics have increased enrollment significantly in engineering mechanics and astronautics and prompted the Department of Biomedical Engineering to add Statics and its companion, Dynamics, as required undergraduate courses.

As a complement to their statics text, Plesha, Gray and Costanzo authored Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics (publication forthcoming via McGraw-Hill). The variety of examples makes the texts relevant to students with myriad interests, says Engineering Physics Professor Robert Witt, who reviewed the books. “From camping tools to transmissions, from NASCAR to James Bond-like chase scenes, from biomedical devices to air traffic control, Mike and his colleagues have selected a set of examples that change the way students look at their world,” he says. “When students see things around them in an entirely new perspective — it’s not a front porch, it’s an array of load-bearing and zero-force members — it’s clear that their education has been transformational. Mike is a catalyst of transformation.”

Katherine (Trina) McMahon

The Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching —
Katherine (Trina) McMahon, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Katherine (Trina) McMahon’s colleagues regard her as a world-class researcher who, with infectious excitement about the material, masterfully integrates relevant research content and concepts into carefully conceived courses. Her students characterize her as an enthusiastic, approachable and fun teacher whose passion for environmental engineering and microbiology is contagious. They praise her ability to explain complex concepts, they appreciate the value she places on each student’s contributions, and they recognize her deep commitment to her students’ success.

McMahon encourages students to challenge themselves intellectually because it is fun and rewarding. Set in an open atmosphere that encourages dialog and critical thinking, her courses combine myriad instructional elements that target several learning styles. For example, she might begin with a “show and tell” — perhaps a sewage sample for sniffing — and present two or three carefully worded and illustrated PowerPoint slides, then slow the pace of the lecture by writing key points on the chalkboard before posing a question or problem for group discussion. Next might come more chalkboard writing followed by multiple-choice questions the students answer via wireless “clicker” response pads and then discuss as a class. Each lecture in every course includes opportunities for the students to construct their own understanding, as well as methods for McMahon to assess their performance. Her assessment tools enable students to gauge where they are in the learning process and help McMahon determine concepts or topics that merit review. In addition, she routinely administers an end-of-semester online questionnaire (an evaluation that goes above and beyond the standard departmental course-evaluation forms) that encourages students to reflect on how aspects of her courses have contributed to their learning or developed their engineering skill sets. While those evaluations focus on student learning outcomes, McMahon also incorporates the students’ feedback into future courses.

She views teaching excellence as a lifelong evolutionary process filled with careful experimentation, iterative modification and repeated assessment. As part of this “teaching as research” approach, McMahon has participated in numerous teaching-improvement discussion groups, workshops and courses sponsored through the UW-Madison Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning and its DELTA program, the UW-Madison Teaching Academy, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She also is involved in curriculum development and improvement activities both at the university level and throughout the national engineering community. “Not only is she actively engaged in looking for and experimenting with new ideas and approaches to teaching, but she is actively engaged in helping to improve the quality of teaching on this campus and working to provide the next generation of faculty with the skills and abilities they will need in order to be successful teachers,” says a colleague.

To that end, McMahon serves as a formal and informal mentor for faculty colleagues and actively mentors undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students. She is a formal mentor with the College of Engineering Diversity Affairs Office Sloan Engineering Mentoring Program and holds an annual community-building retreat for her students and postdoctoral researchers. In addition, she encourages undergraduate involvement in research; to date, four of her undergrads have received prestigious UW-Madison undergraduate research funding. “She gave me guidance in choosing a proposal topic from the ideas that sprung up from my own curiosity,” says one undergraduate researcher. “She took care to guide my ideas, rather than push them in a certain direction, allowing me to use my own initiative. ... This ability to allow students to pursue their own ideas while still guiding them along the way is a very important attribute for excellent teachers.”

Juan de Pablo

The Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication —
Juan de Pablo, Howard Curler Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Through a series of nine research articles — each one of which colleagues worldwide consider a ‘landmark’ publication — Howard Curler Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Juan de Pablo has demonstrated unprecedented advances in developing powerful computational methods that enable researchers to conduct molecular simulations of complex fluids. With his students, de Pablo has invented new simulation methods, algorithms and theoretical formalisms that are key to establishing quantitative relations between atomic-level structure and interactions, processing conditions, macroscopic properties, and performance in applications.

Researchers have a clear understanding of how molecules interact in complex fluids, polymers, electrolytes and biomolecules. Researchers also know what fundamental forces are acting between the molecules, and they can assign equations that govern this behavior. Yet, even with today’s powerful computers, solving these equations can take months — even years, if it is at all possible. That’s where de Pablo and his students have made key strides. “Quicker processors and ever-expanding memory has been rapidly consumed by larger systems and more complicated molecules, particularly synthetic and biological polymers,” says colleague Frank Bates of the University of Minnesota. “Juan de Pablo seems to have figured out how to overcome this limitation through the implementation of revolutionary algorithms.”

The algorithms are mostly stochastic; basically, they generate random realizations of the problem at hand and, using well-defined rules, researchers can assign different weights to those realizations and relate the results to experimental data. Firmly grounded in the principles of statistical mechanics, the algorithms and methods combine elegance, practical usefulness and versatility in applications, says colleague Hans Christian Öttinger of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. “They are used also by researchers in soft matter physics, biophysics, chemistry, interfacial science ... and they have become standard references for all the leaders in the field of Monte Carlo simulations.”

The research papers, published from 1999 to 2003 either in the Journal of Chemical Physics or Physical Review Letters, demonstrate the feasibility and value of joining several ideas: replica exchange techniques, expanded canonical ensembles, and simulations in a multidimensional space of ensemble variables. The early papers set forth the technical utility of the combined method, while later papers use the method to reveal new insights into several theoretically and practically important systems, including polymers, glasses and asymmetric charged systems. “The attention to both technical detail and physical significance in these works is an essential part of their ultimate impact,” says colleague Gregory Rutledge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The first is crucial to any ‘early adopters’ of the work; without the confidence and reliability it provides, others such as myself may not take the risk to implement. The second serves the goal of ‘teaching’ the community how and why it may benefit from the adoption of such new methods.”

Researchers have cited the papers on more than 550 occasions, according to citation database Web of Science. More importantly, says colleague Doros Theodorou of the National Technical University of Athens, the papers have influenced young chemical engineers interested in statistical mechanics and multiscale simulations as tools for rational, molecular-level design. “His overall modeling and simulation work points the way to new nanoscale products and processes that will form the focus of the chemical, materials and biomolecular engineers of tomorrow,” says Theodorou.