Greetings from Charlottesville!
We have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with fresh energy and renewed purpose. In May 2021 we welcomed an external review committee of MSE luminaries who provided a highly beneficial peer assessment of our program. I am heartened by their recognition of our key strengths, including our culture of collegiality and collaboration.
Our faculty are partners in three multi-university research initiatives funded by the Office of Naval Research; three Energy Frontier Research Centers; two U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Programs; two initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program; and a 2021 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Addressing Systems Challenges through Engineering Teams (ASCENT) program.
These programs leverage capabilities in four research areas: corrosion and electrochemistry; structural materials; electronic, magnetic and optical properties; and soft materials. Our focused investment has attracted new talent. From 2015 to 2020 we hired 12 new faculty, including four NSF CAREER award winners and two who earned young faculty awards from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Our new faculty have attracted new students, who deserve credit for the many advances produced by our research teams. Ph.D. enrollments have increased 63% since 2015 and we are well on our way to achieving our Ph.D. student enrollment goal of 125 or more. The last three years have seen record number of students taking — and passing — the qualifier examination, with an average of 20 students signed up for the exam in each of the last three years.
We see robust interest in our Bachelor of Science degree program, announced last spring. Eighteen undergraduates joined our department as second, third and fourth-year majors.
This accelerated growth in student enrollments is made possible by a historic gift from our distinguished alumnus Greg Olsen, who earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in 1971. Greg pledged $25 million to the School of Engineering and Applied Science and our department; $10.5 million supports fellowships in materials science and engineering. Early beneficiaries include six Ph.D. students who earned Olsen fellowships and ten undergraduate majors who earned Olsen scholarships.
Greg dedicated his gift to his former Ph.D. adviser, materials science and engineering Professor Emeritus Bill Jesser, an outstanding academic researcher in thin films, nanoparticles, semiconductor materials and surface thermodynamics. Bill retired from the University of Virginia in May 2009 after 41 years of leadership and service to the University and the Commonwealth.
All who walk along Engineer’s Way are reminded of their indelible bond. We renamed our materials science building Jesser Hall, commemorated during an October 2021 dedication ceremony. In 2000, Greg made a $15 million gift toward the construction of Wilsdorf Hall, named for two of his other esteemed professors of materials science and engineering, Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf and her late husband Heinz Wilsdorf.
Our alumni continue to serve as our ambassadors throughout all stages of their careers, from leading sustainability efforts for Fortune 500 companies, like Gayle Schueller (Ph.D. ’92), to setting a national research agenda for high entropy alloys, like Michael Gao (Ph.D., ’02), to making homes more energy efficient and affordable, like Stanford University Knight-Hennessy Scholar Jill Ferguson (B.S. in engineering science with a concentration in material science engineering and nanotechnology, ’17).
I find inspiration in the resiliency, resolve and purposefulness shown by everyone in our department, and remain immensely grateful to our extended family of students, research partners and alumni for their support. Please explore our web site to learn how we are creating a more sustainable and connected world.
John R. Scully