The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Welcome to
Materials Science and Engineering

We are delighted to welcome you to the web site of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the University of Tennessee (UT). This site provides you with information about research, teaching, and service activities of our faculty and students. We also provide MSE course information and we introduce you to all of our departmental staff and students. Thank you for taking an interest in UT-MSE!

MSE faculty and students talk about unique opportunities for students studying at UT.

(Click here to download our department's video)

2015 MSE Newsletters


UT-MSE People Making a Difference



One of the fastest-growing engineering departments at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will have a new, albeit familiar, face in charge when Veerle Keppens becomes head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering on June 1.
Keppens will take over the helm of the department from Kurt Sickafus, who is retiring from the position after four years.

"I want to express my sincere appreciation for Kurt's leadership over the last four years and to Veerle for her willingness to accept the new role," said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. "With the concerted effort of the faculty and staff, I am confident that the department will continue its progress and journey in becoming a more visible high-quality program that supports the university, college and departmental vision to become Top 25 programs."

Keppens said being a department head "is one of the more challenging jobs in a university. On the one hand you make decisions that impact the entire department, but at the same time you are working daily with people affected by those decisions.
"This position is one I'm glad to be taking, but a lot of challenges come with it, for certain," she said.
Keppens also serves as associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Engineering, a role she will continue to fill after taking over as department head. The pairing of those positions brings about another set of considerations, and Keppens said she will work to ensure each position gets the "attention it requires and deserves."

Keppens came to UT's College of Engineering in 2003. She has authored or co-authored more than 80 technical papers and contributed to more than 70 technical presentations at national and international conferences, with her main area of expertise being the elastic properties and lattice dynamics of novel materials.
A native of Belgium, she earned her both her bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, just east of Brussels.
Her work in materials science has led to accolades and honors including the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship; Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship; countless university, college and departmental awards; and being named a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. She also leads the Resonant Ultrasound Spectroscopy Group at UT.

The role of materials science—and along with it the profile of the department—has come to prominence in recent years as new alloys, fibers and techniques have taken over from traditional materials.
At UT, the department has a roughly 4-to-1 student-faculty ratio, one of the lowest in the college, which allows for more hands-on instruction in both the lab and the classroom.

Faculty and students in the field must be experts in design, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics and electronics, with their work affecting everything from rocketry to sports. Additionally, the department is one of the key ties between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with many of its faculty holding joint appointments with ORNL.
"I'm fortunate that we have such strong collaborations in place, particularly with labs such as ORNL and with the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials," said Keppens. "The department has grown a lot recently, both faculty and students. Having those partnerships, and JIAM coming online soon, makes for an exciting time. It is really a good time to be in materials science at UT and see all of these things come together."

*David Goddard (865-974-0683,


A huge congratulations to Dr. George Pharr on his selection as University Macebearer, the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member by the University. Dr. Pharr's selection is affirmation of his outstanding accomplishments in the areas of teaching, research and service as a faculty member at The University of Tennessee.

2015 ASM Student Materials Camps

"ASM Materials Camp excites and engages young, aspiring minds. Camps are offered at no cost to attendees thanks to the generous contributions to ASM Materials Education Foundation. Our student camp volunteers take great pride in influencing the next generation of engineers and scientists." (ASM
A week-long opportunity to learn about materials science, failure analysis and materials characterization through hands-on studies at CNS Y-12 and UT Knoxville and Oak Ridge Natioanl Lab.Please download the application for Materials Camp 2015 here.

Engineering Professional Practice

Featured Student: Chelsea Wilhoit

Our student this week is Chelsea Wilhoit, Materials Science engineering major who accepted a co-op at Logan Aluminum, located in Russellville, Kentucky. Wilhoit described the department she worked in and what her main responsibilities were.

"I worked mainly in the technical unit within the Product Metallurgy and Analytical Chemistry Laboratory," she said. "The Product Metallurgy department deals mainly with customer service. If one of our customers is dissatisfied with the quality of our metal, this department analyzes and decided which area/lab the product needs to be sent to for further testing. In addition, I was given the opportunity to assist in the routine testing of the oils and coolants that cycle through the mills. During this internship, I was given exposure to many different analytical chemistry machines. It was very fascinating to observe and learn about all the additives and concentrations necessary to make an aluminum mill operate efficiently."

The most valuable benefit Chelsea received during her co-op assignment was gaining experience in a new workplace environment.
"Regardless of the number of coops/internships you have, I think the biggest take away from each experience is discovering how different each individual company is," she said. "From the way they operate, to their company culture, all companies are different and it's refreshing to know that somewhere out there is a company that will coincide with your own ideals. The business knowledge gathered from the environment is great and the equipment experiences doesn't hurt your resume, but the crucial point I took away from this summer is the importance of finding a job that you love. The people that I was able to work with really have a passion for their job and their city, its exciting witnessing this spark in their eyes."

Students, please note: If you receive a co-op or internship offer, please contact Engineering Professional Practice for help with paperwork and any preparations you may need –, 865-974-5323, or 310 Perkins Hall.

Students may read more about their peers' co-op experiences by logging into their Engineering Professional Practice profile via, clicking "Resource Library" (on the left margin) and selecting "Students at Work–In Their Own Words." For information on engineering co-op and internships, contact or 865-974-5323.

UT Engineers Helping ORNL with Key Sustainable Energy Riddle

One of the key holdups in the march toward more efficient sustainable energy could soon be answered thanks, in part, to UT researchers. The College of Engineering's Alexander Papandrew and Gerd Duscher are part of a broader Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led team that recently received a $2.75 million Department of Energy grant for work on improving fuel cells, $1.4 million of which went to their project.
The basic premise of their work is to find a far more efficient way to turn chemical energy—in this case natural gas—into electrical energy. "Current methods typically involve burning the gas to run a turbine in order to generate electricity, and then transporting the electricity," said Papandrew, a research assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "We believe that is an inefficient way of going about it. "We're interested in converting natural gas directly to electricity using fuel cells. If we can improve our cells in the ways and to the levels that we hope to achieve, it could fundamentally change the way we get power."
Papandrew and Duscher, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, have set a goal of improving current efficiency by 30 percent. To get there will take a major leap forward in technology and capability, something the kind of grant they are working under was intended to do.
DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, grants are designed to reward major shifts in research and design. It's a designation that brings plenty of both possibilities and challenges.
"They hold the work to high standards, and they fully expect that you come up with cutting-edge solutions," said Papandrew. "You have to produce concrete, real-world ideas and prove that they work. That carries risk, but it can be very rewarding whenever a new approach comes forward to tackle problems."
For the UT-ORNL team, that new approach is the way that they looked at electrodes and catalysts.
Catalysts speed up the reactions converting chemical energy into electrical energy. In an electrode, catalysts are integrated with an electrolyte that conducts ions and an interconnect that conducts electrons to form a circuit.
Platinum is currently used as the catalyst in many electrochemical devices. In this case, it is present in costly amounts that leave significant room for improvement, as the team sees it. For its design, ORNL is providing the nanostructure "scaffolding" surrounding the UT-provided electrolytes.
The devices the team is testing are the size of a coin but the internal structures that they are engineering are significantly smaller. So small, in fact, that Duscher uses ion beams to slice sections bit by microscopic bit.
"Working together with ORNL, we've been able to come up with a concept that should improve output by almost one-third, while at the same time seeing a tenfold reduction in the amount of platinum we have to use," said Papandrew. "That's the kind of game-changing technology we hope and think we can provide."
As far as what the long-term implications of such a drastic improvement could mean, Papandrew pointed out how such a field shift could affect the way people power their houses.
By being able to take their cells and group them in housings roughly the size of a pillow—it would be possible to power an average-sized house via natural gas delivered by pipeline or stored in a tank on the premises. Not only that, but the heat generated by the process could also be used in the home.
It's an application that could prove useful not only for homeowners, but campers, hunters, military and emergency personnel and those in developing countries or in areas without established power grids.

Welcome to the University of Tennessee's Chapter for the Materials Research Society! Our chapter seeks to promote professional development, provide an environment that encourages interdisciplinary discussions, and enhance student involvement. We encourage undergraduate and graduate students of all fields of research to attend our meetings near the end of each month. Faculty and Post-Docs are also more than welcome to join us.
We are a growing chapter with a lot of future activities planned! Keep an eye out on our website for up to date information about events.
Upcoming meeting is; January 26th: 6-7 pm, Graduate Student Lounge (Ferris 317)

Materials Science Matchmaker - ORNL-UTK joint faculty helps students navigate national lab network

As a joint faculty appointee, David Mandrus conducts materials
synthesis research at ORNL and the University of Tennessee.

National Science Foundation Funds Big Idea in Small Engineering

An idea for a new way to test some of the smallest pieces of our planet has earned a large award—more than $2.2 million to be exact—from the National Science Foundation for a pair of UT professors in the College of Engineering.
George Pharr and Erik Herbert, both of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, helped come up with the concept for the "Development of and Broad-Based Materials Research with the Next Generation Nanomechanical Testing Laboratory" along with Warren Oliver of Nanomechanics Inc.
"This is a huge coup for our university, especially because it comes in the highly competitive realm of proposals worth more than one million dollars," said Kurt Sickafus, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "This award and the work accomplished with it has the potential to impact advanced materials research across the world."

Their idea, in the simplest of terms, seeks to address the next generation of nanomaterials studies by looking at what tools will be needed and doing so with a wide-ranging appeal across their field.

By making sure that technological advances are both applicable and open to such a large swath of materials scientists, everything from fuel cell research to designing more earthquake-resistant structures could be affected.
"The testing system we will develop will be the only one of its kind in the world and will allow us to test nano-sized objects at temperatures up to 1,100 degrees Celsius," said Pharr, who is a joint UT -Oak Ridge National Laboratory professor. "By obtaining data with high precision and at extremely high rates we can determine the strength of many of the small-scale objects that are fueling the nanotechnology revolution.

"Our data will be key to the successful development of many next-generation nano-devices." The team wants to create summer workshops for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and will partner with a local small business, Nanomechanics Inc, to commercialize the new technology.

More than 70 percent of the funding—$1.54 million—will come through the NSF's Major Research Instrumentation program, with the remainder coming through UT. "In addition to developing and building the next-generation nanomechanical testing platform, we get to do it working alongside a number of the best and brightest minds in our field," said Herbert. "We hope to develop advancements in our understanding of the fundamental aspects of materials, from elasticity to conductivity."

"This has been a dream of mine seventeen years in the making." The project will last five years and will be housed in the Joint Institute of Advanced Materials at UT when complete.


Professor David Mandrus has his own spin on the future.


Mandrus, of the College of Engineering's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, recently was chosen by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as a Moore Synthesis Investigator, a highly selective honor that carries with it $1.7 million in funding. If the breakthroughs Mandrus is studying come to fruition they could revolutionize everything from appliances to computing, as his work focuses on using both the charge and spin—the intrinsic magnetism—of electrons to shape the future of electronics. "The idea is to control electrons using magnetic fields as well as electric fields," said Mandrus. "This will lead to new device concepts and a new generation of electronic devices that require very little power to operate." Mandrus is a specialist in the discovery and growth of new quantum materials, which he says "are the engine that drives progress in condensed matter and materials physics." These materials encompass both topological and strongly correlated electronic phases, and are interesting because they often display striking and unexpected phenomena that challenge our fundamental understanding of matter and can lead to revolutionary new technologies. "It is our job to keep theorists awake at night," Mandrus laughed. "I'm thrilled to be chosen to help lead efforts forward." In simplistic terms, Mandrus's work involves the study of conductive materials at increasingly smaller scales, to the point of being nanoscopic. Mandrus will also be working to create magnetic semiconductors that will be compatible with a new push toward two-dimensional semiconductors. By exploiting the magnetic properties and adding them to "traditional" electronics, the amount of data flow increases, while the amount of power and thermal output decreases. It is that work on the cutting edge of technology that led to his recognition by the Moore foundation. "This is a prestigious designation and it speaks to the amount of respect they have for his work," said William Dunne, associate dean for research and technology in the College of Engineering. "This isn't something you can apply for, but rather something where they ask you to submit a proposal. "Even getting to that point is an honor, but for them to choose you is very special." The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was founded to help nourish ideas ranging from science and environmental conservation to patient care by investing in research and development. For more information on the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, visit

Chris Wetteland is a new Lecturer in MSE

Chris Wetteland is a new Lecturer in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). He coordinates and teaches three undergraduate laboratory courses in the department and has supervised students in the Senior Design Course. Prior to coming to UTK, Chris was a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. He has a BS in Geology, an MS in Materials Science, and is presently a doctoral student in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at UTK. He is a certified solar electric and solar thermal installer and has designed and installed numerous renewable energy systems.
His primary research interests include:
• Simulating the role of high-energy protons in primitive solar system materials
• Radiation damage in nuclear materials
• Ion Beam Analysis
• Ceramic Processing
• Development of solar thermal and solar electric renewable energy systems
• STEM outreach

Rawn named Fellow of ASM International 

College of Engineering associate professor Claudia Rawn has been named a 2014 ASM International Fellow, earning one of the highest honors attainable in her field. "I'm thrilled," said Rawn, a faculty member of theDepartment of Materials Science and Engineering. "To join the other colleagues of mine in the department who have been made fellows is a tremendous honor." Rawn is the third member of the department to be honored in the last seven years, but her participation with ASM, formerly the American Society for Metals, goes back much further. She first began working with the group as a student before switching organizations during postdoctoral study. After that brief time away, Rawn became reacquainted with the group after coming to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1997, then even more so once she joined the UT staff a decade ago. "Being made a fellow brings it back around to where I started as a student," said Rawn. Since that time, she has helped out with projects, camps, contests, and conferences, and is active in a number of different roles on campus. She is director of the Center for Materials Processing and a member of both iBME, the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, and JIAM, the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials. She has helped organize her department's Materials Camp since 2004. ASM started its fellows program in 1969 to help recognize specific achievements or contributions to the field of materials science. In Rawn's case, the award stems from her work using in situ X-ray and neutron diffraction to study a variety of novel energy materials from superconductors to gas hydrates. She, and other members of this year's class, will be formally inducted at an Oct. 14 meeting in Pittsburgh. While the honor itself is nice, being recognized in front of her peers validates a lifetime of giving back to her field. "I have a lot of pride in what we do, and I know a lot of the people in the organization," said Rawn. "There's no other way to say how much it means. It's just a thrill."

Proudly Presenting MSE's 2014 Graduating Seniors


click on photo for larger view

Congratulations for all your great accomplishments from all of us students, faculty,
and staff of the MSE Department!

Snow in Knoxville
"A Proper Winter in Knoxville February 13, 2014",
photographs by Professor David Keffer


Dr. George Pharr, Chancellor's Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Joint Faculty Scientist in the Materials Science and Technology Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has been named to the National Academy of Engineering. He becomes the fifth NAE member in the College of Engineering. Pharr, who is also director of the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Advanced Materials and McKamey Professor of Engineering, has been elected for his "development of methods for determining mechanical properties of materials by nanoindentation." Read more >>


Mariya Mariya Zhuravleva, assistant research professor of materials science and engineering, was recently named principal investigator on a $2 million 5-year grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Her research addresses a grand challenge in border security by developing crystal growth technology aimed at enabling the production of large size gamma-ray scintillators with superior energy resolution. The properties of currently available materials limit the performance of detection systems. For most gamma and neutron detection applications, these materials must be available in large size at a reasonable cost while maintaining the required energy resolution to unambiguously identify various nuclear signatures. New fundamental understanding of the materials properties of recently discovered scintillators will be coupled with numerical simulations of fluid flow and heat/mass transport to drive the design of new crystal growth furnaces and new growth protocols aimed at demonstrating the potential of large scale production. The effort will focus on recently discovered scintillators that appear to have inherent advantages for large-scale production. A key strategy of the program is the tight integration of research and education that will provide opportunities for students to develop a deeper knowledge, expertise, and appreciation of this critical field.



Carlos Gonzalez is an MSE- PhD candidate who dreams of someday being a professor at a small college. Listening to the comments of the people he has worked with, it definitely sounds like he has all the right stuff. Since beginning work on his doctorate in 2010, Gonzalez has mentored seven materials science and engineering undergraduate researchers on a variety of projects. They all agree his passion for the field is contagious. "Carlos' drive and joy for learning are inspirational," says student Joe Ulrich. "He makes you want to love the work, and having someone like him to guide you is vital to enjoying an internship." Read more about Carlos here

Josh Burgess D. Joshua Burgess is a UT-MSE Ph.D. candidate in the Materials Joining Group. He is an American Welding Society (AWS) certified Level III Expert welder with over seven years welding experience. Mr. Burgess is a two time Tennessee State Champion welder and ranked 3rd in the nation at the Skills USA National Welding Conference. While competing in the U.S. Weld Pre-Trials for a chance to represent the United States in the World Skills competition, he became interested in the science behind welding and decided to pursue a college degree in a welding related field. Mr. Burgess received his B.S. in MSE in 2009 and his M.S. in Welding Metallurgy in 2011. Josh is currently serving as Chairman for the local North East Tennessee American Welding Society (AWS) Section and recently elected to be the AWS District 8 Director for 2014-2017.
Click here to learn more about Josh Burgess.


The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Big Orange. Big Ideas.

Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System