Rhines Report Spring 2018: Letter from Department Chair

Michele V. Manuel, Ph.D.
Michele V. Manuel, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Welcome Alumni and Friends to our newest digital newsletter!  

My first year as department chair has been a whirlwind. The University of Florida broke into the Top 10 of Public Universities at No. 9. Our department was also ranked No. 10 among materials science and engineering departments at public universities.

The department welcomed three new faculty for the 2017-2018 academic year. Dr. Michael Tonks joined us from Pennsylvania State University, and he conducts computational research that focuses on how materials change over time. Dr. Kyle Hartig also joined us from Pennsylvania State University, and his expertise is in optical-based sensor techniques for active and passive remote sensing. Dr. Assel Aitkaliyeva was with Idaho National Laboratory before joining our faculty, and her research focuses on the behavior of nuclear fuels. These faculty add new research areas and strengthen our existing research specialties. We are continuing to hire and expand our department over the next two academic years.

Our faculty have made great strides in research with grant-funded projects that include studying stem cells that have experienced microgravity to explore the relationship between cardiovascular disease and space travel, developing new materials for better and smaller energy conversion in power adapters for digital devices, and creating better materials for space travel that would mitigate radiation on satellites and make reentry into the earth’s atmosphere safer for spaceships.  

I am proud to announce that we are currently ranked No. 2 among materials science and engineering departments in the U.S. for both our large percentage of underrepresented minority faculty and female faculty. As a department, we celebrate our diversity because it gives everyone a seat at our table and brings multiple points-of-view that leads to innovative solutions to engineering research problems.

I am also proud to let you know that our student population has increased significantly. Our sophomore design lab alone has doubled in the past year, thanks to the work of our top-notch professors. Our students have presented research at the national American Nuclear Society, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society and Materials Research Society conferences, and in March 2018, a team of four students from our department took home second place in the Materials Bowl at TMS in Phoenix. #GoGators

Our expansion isn’t limited to just our faculty and students. In 2011, Nuclear Engineering joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. This partnership has increased the competency of the department, particularly in the growing field of nuclear materials. This newsletter is named 1959 because it is both the year that the Department of Materials Science and Engineering was founded by Dr. Fred Rhines and the year the UF’s Nuclear Test Reactor was built. In the past seven years since nuclear joined our MSE family, we have seen our faculty and students come together and conduct innovative materials and nuclear research that wasn’t happening when we were separate.

In addition to the great research, we have updated our home at Rhines Hall. We have a new academic advising suite to welcome both current and prospective students. We also have a new collaborative lab space, which houses a host of great equipment, including our Scanning Electron Microscope and six 3D printers, and it is where the design classes are now held. 

I hope you will spend some time reading about the great research being done on-campus by our professors and students, but I also hope you will take some time to engage with us. Each one of you as alumni are also a part of our success story. Check out the alumni spotlight with U.S. Olympic Speed skater Erin Jackson, and then head over to the alumni link to update us about you.

We look forward to connecting with you each semester through this newsletter and other outreach. Find out three great ways to get involved and support the department.

Go Gators!

Michele V. Manuel

Chair, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering