Audubon Society Honors Diran Apelian for Promoting Sustainable Stewardship of the Earth's Resources

He receives the society's Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal at the American Association of Engineering Societies' General Assembly in Washington, D.C.
April 28, 2015

Diran Apelian, Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and director of WPI's Metal Processing Institute, has received the Audubon Society's Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal. Established by the society in 1977 and administered by the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), the medal recognizes individuals who encourage cooperation between engineering professionals and environmentalists to create innovative solutions to environmental problems.

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According to AAES, Apelian was recognized "for articulating an inspiring vision of sustainable stewardship of our earth's resources and then rallying varied disciplines and constituencies within the science and engineering community to collaborate meaningfully toward outcomes that satisfy the interests of industries and conservationists alike." The award was presented to Apelian on April 20 at the annual AEES awards banquet and general assembly at the National Academy in Washington, D.C.


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"I am humbled by this award, but more important, I am thrilled that the award recognizes an idea: the recovery of material resources," Apelian said. "The concept and this movement are much larger than any of us and the recognition of this initiative is quite satisfying."

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Apelian is founder and director of the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3), which was established in 2010 with a five-year, $400,000 award from the National Science Foundation; the NSF recently renewed its support for the center with a five-year Phase II Collaborative Research Award expected to total $463,000. CR3, a member-driven collaborative led by researchers at WPI, the Colorado School of Mines, and KU Leuven in Belgium, advances technologies for recovering, recycling, and reusing materials throughout the manufacturing process.

CR3, whose members include major materials producers, such as Alcoa and Global Tungsten & Powders, and global manufacturers, including General Motors and Constellium, conducts research leading to practical solutions that enable its members to adopt sustainable practices and processes, thus protecting and preserving natural resources, while also reducing energy costs and increasing profitability. For example, the center's researchers developed recycling techniques that enable sand casters to reclaim and reuse about 80 percent (close to a million tons annually) of the clay and sea coal used in the process; found ways to recover rare earth metals from the phosphor in spent fluorescent lamps, reducing dependence on rare earths exported from China; and engineered high-speed sorting and processing techniques that enable high-value metals to be more readily recovered from scrap.

CR3 is one of three research centers that fall under the umbrella of the Metal Processing Institute, which Apelian founded in 1996. The largest industry-university alliance in North America, MPI is dedicated to advancing the field of materials processing through research in the areas of metal casting (in the Advanced Casting Research Center, or ACRC), heat treating (in the Center for Heat Treating Excellence, or CHTE), and resource recovery and recycling (in CR3).

In addition to the Joan Hodges Queneau Palladium Medal, Apelian, an internationally recognized pioneer in metals research, has received numerous honors for his contributions to research and education in materials science and engineering. They include the 2010 Robert Earll McConnell Award from the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), and the Acta Materialia Inc. J. Herbert Hollomon Award, the Brimacombe Prize, and the Bruce Chalmers Award from The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS), one of the four AIME member societies.

Apelian served as the 52nd president of TMS and was one of six Anniversary Laureates at the TMS annual meeting in 2007, the society's 50th anniversary year. He is one of only 100 living TMS Fellows and 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. He is also an honorary member of the French Materials Engineering Society, a fellow of ASM International, and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia. He received an honorary doctorate from Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, China, in 1997.

Apelian's pioneering work in molten metal processing, new aluminum alloys, and innovative casting techniques has resulted in more than 600 publications and 11 books, which he co-edited. A longtime advocate for redefining engineering education and changing the popular perception of engineers, he is co-editor of Shaping Our World: Engineering Education for the 21st Century (2011, J. Wiley & Sons).

Apelian received 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 and then joined Drexel, where he ultimately was named vice provost. At WPI, he served as university provost from 1990 to 1996. Since then, he has focused on teaching and research in materials processing. WPI has twice honored him: in 2006 with its Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship, and in 2009 with its Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize.