After more than seven years of shepherding interdisciplinary materials research and defining a materials innovation ecosystem at the Georgia Institute of Technology, David L. McDowell is stepping down from his role as founding director of the Institute for Materials (IMat).
McDowell is the Carter N. Paden Jr. Distinguished Chair in Metals Processing and a Regents Professor. He holds a dual appointment in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering (ME) and the School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE).
IMat was founded in Fall 2012 and formally launched in June 2013 in conjunction with a press release from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy highlighting Georgia Tech’s commitment to the U.S. Materials Genome Initiative. IMat serves a community of more than 200 faculty and staff conducting materials-related research that bridges across all colleges and academic units at Georgia Tech, including the Georgia Tech Research Institute. IMat’s goal is to develop a materials innovation ecosystem to help define and pursue current and future science and technology challenges that require a multifaceted and collaborative approach.
McDowell was an early believer in the interdisciplinary approach to research. Serving as associate director (1984-1992) and director (1992-2012) of the Mechanical Properties Research Lab at Georgia Tech, he helped the facility grow into an umbrella organization that coordinates shared equipment use, training, and maintenance among campus researchers working in structural materials.
Under his leadership, and in partnership with the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology as well as key academic units such as MSE, IMat merged several characterization and analysis laboratories on campus into the Materials Characterization Facility (MCF). In 2019, the MCF supported more than 650 unique campus and external users in materials research, making high-end characterization tools and staff resources available to academic, industry, and government users.
McDowell has also emphasized IMat’s pursuit of Georgia Tech’s leadership in the emerging field of materials data science to enhance basic research and substantially accelerate the discovery and development of new and improved materials.
Traditional experimental methods are expensive and time consuming, slowing down the materials R&D enterprise. McDowell sees the need to apply such new methods in materials discovery and development as critical to U.S. competitiveness of basic research and insertion of materials into products. Through a strategy of identifying key faculty hires in academic units and investing in a thought leadership position among academic institutions, IMat has built a foundation for Georgia Tech’s highly visible efforts in this area.
In particular, the concept of a materials innovation ecosystem pursued by Georgia Tech has fostered significant cross-disciplinary research and education efforts.
“We thank Dave McDowell for everything he has done to advance interdisciplinary materials research at Georgia Tech over the past seven years as the founding director of the Institute for Materials,” said Raheem Beyah, vice president for interdisciplinary research. “His focus on materials data science was far-sighted and has helped make us a leader in this area.”
Although McDowell is stepping down from the directorship of IMat, he has no plans on leaving Georgia Tech. “What has kept me in the academic realm is my love for the development of students, and in particular graduate students, developing them as people and helping them realize their goals and dreams,” McDowell said. He will continue to teach to, and learn from, the next generation of leaders at Georgia Tech.
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Writer: Christa Ernst