WPI Professor and Institute Head Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Diran Apelian Honored for Contributions to Metal Processing, Engineering Education, and University-Industry Collaboration
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February 12, 2009

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WORCESTER, Mass.– February 12, 2009 – Diran Apelian, Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and director of the university’s Metal Processing Institute, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Election to the NAE is among the highest distinctions accorded to engineers.

Established in 1964, NAE consists of the nation's premier engineers, who are elected by their peers for seminal contributions to their fields. Operating under the congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences in 1863, the academy provides leadership and guidance to government on the application of engineering resources to social, economic, and security problems. There are currently 2,246 NAE members.

"This is well-deserved and important recognition for Professor Apelian's many contributions in engineering research and in leadership, in both the academic and corporate communities," said WPI President Dennis D. Berkey.

Apelian, an internationally recognized pioneer in metals research who is currently concluding a term as the 52nd president of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS), was honored for "contributions to solidification processing and for outstanding leadership in engineering education and university-industry collaboration," according to the NAE.

"This is a terribly satisfying recognition," Apelian said. "It is an honor that brings so much meaning to all that I have done in my career. During the past several years in particular, I’ve made a point of exploring the intersection of materials and society, especially in the area of sustainability. So being part of an academy that serves the nation and which will permit me to apply my experience and expertise for the benefit of society certainly has fidelity with my compass.

"Of course," he added, “this honor is not mine alone. I share this recognition with many people--colleagues, coworkers, and, especially, my students. I have been gratified by the many emails I have received from former students expressing their pride in this distinction. It has helped me realize that something like this brings pride not just to me, but to a community, and that is very gratifying."

Membership in NAE caps a span of three years in which Apelian has received some of the highest honors accorded members of the metals processing community. In 2007 he received the Acta Materialia Inc. J. Herbert Hollomon Award and the Brimacombe Prize from TMS and was one of six Anniversary Laureates at the TMS annual meeting, which marked the society’s 50th anniversary. Apelian, who is one of only 100 living TMS Fellows, received the society’s 2006 Bruce Chalmers Award, presented to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the science and technology of solidification science.

Apelian joined WPI in 1990 as university provost and returned to teaching and research in materials processing six years later. His pioneering work in molten metal processing, new aluminum alloys, and innovative casting techniques has resulted in more than 500 publications and 11 books, which he co-edited. "Aluminum was not all that popular as a research area 25 years ago when we started this work,” he noted. “Now, it is of critical importance, as aluminum, with its light weight and strength, is playing an ever greater role in helping the world reduce its appetite for fossil fuels. I’m proud of the research, but just as proud of our efforts to widely disseminate this knowledge base."

Since 1996, Apelian has been director of the Metals Processing Institute, an industry-university alliance he founded that is dedicated to near net research in such areas as metal casting, powder metallurgy, and metal heat treating. With more than 100 corporate partners, it is the largest industry-university consortium in North America. “MPI has become a model of industry-university collaboration and has demonstrated the importance of doing fundamental research and preparing graduates in areas where there are important and compelling applications.”

In addition to his leadership in metals processing, Apelian has been an advocate over the past 15 years for redefining engineering education and changing the popular perception of engineers. He has written and lectured widely on these topics and used his TMS presidency as an opportunity to advance his views before a large national audience. “I have, in particular, advocated for the polytechnic model of engineering education,” he said, “where the approach is holistic, where science and technology are seen in the context of societal and policy issues, and where the education creates a framework for a lifelong educational experience.”

During the 2008-09 academic year, Apelian has seized the opportunity to put these ideas into practice by developing and teaching (with Svetlana Nikitina, adjunct assistant professor of humanities and arts) one of WPI’s Great Problems Seminars, which are offered to first-year students through the university’s innovative first year experience. Called “Making our World: Sustainable Development for the 21st Century,” the seminar explores major challenges facing engineering in the 21st century, including energy, transportation, housing, food distribution, recycling, and health care, using material science and sustainability as a unifying theme.

Prior to coming to WPI, Apelian earned an undergraduate degree in metallurgical engineering from Drexel University and an Sc.D. in materials science from MIT. He worked at Bethlehem Steel's Homer Research Laboratories before joining Drexel's faculty in 1976. At Drexel he held various positions, including professor, head of the Department of Materials Engineering, associate dean of the College of Engineering, and vice provost. He serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Cast Metals Research, and the Encyclopedia of Materials Science and Engineering. In 2004, he was the first person from WPI to be named a fellow of APMI International, the professional society for individuals involved in powder metallurgy technology and particulate materials.

In 2006, WPI recognized Apelian with the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. He is an honorary member of the French Materials Engineering Society and a Fellow of APMI and ASM, in addition to TMS. He was awarded an honorary doctorate and named honorary professor of Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, China, in 1997. Earlier this winter he was elected a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.