Two Tennessee Tech University researchers adept at integrating research and teaching responsive to the needs of U.S. and worldwide industries have been honored as winners of the university’s most prestigious research award.
Mohamed Abdelrahman, electrical and computer engineering professor, and Joe Biernacki, chemical engineering professor, are the 2009 Caplenor Faculty Research Award recipients.
The award, first presented in 1984, is the university's premier research award and is named in honor of Donald Caplenor, former associate vice president for research and dean of instructional development who died in 1979.
Abdelrahman has help carve a name for Tennessee Tech in high-tech metal casting research, partnering with the likes of the American Foundry Society, General Motors, Hitchner, Foseco-Morval and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
As principal investigator, Abdelrahman has secured more than $5 million in competitive research funding aimed at improving the U.S. manufacturing sector. Supporting agencies include the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and national and international industrial partners.
Ralph Dinwiddie, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory senior research scientist, knows first hand how Abdelrahman’s passion for widening the metal casting research base is improving efforts to recruit students into a research arena vital to the nation’s future.
“Dr. Abdelrahman’s research in the metal casting area is innovative and provides a different perspective to an area that is in need of much research efforts to be modernized for the United Sates to remain competitive in this essential manufacturing area,” said Dinwiddie.
During his 13 years at TTU, he has focused on collaborative research involving engineering, arts and sciences, education and nursing. His work supports and encourages undergraduate and graduate students.
As an active scholar-teacher, Abdelrahman includes his research discoveries in the classroom. He won an NSF grant to instrument a mechatronics laboratory and collaborates to teach this dual-listed course. He also received NSF funding to establish Research Experiences for Undergraduates and Research Experiences for Teachers.
“The RET dovetails nicely with the university’s commitment to develop teaching and learning strategies for 7-12 teachers to transfer positive lessons that influence student excitement in the STEM disciplines,” said Ken Currie, TTU’s Center for Manufacturing Research Director.
“During my tenure as director, I’ve have never experienced a faculty member who is so professional and exhibits a noticeable excitement about his research field,” added Currie.
Abdelrahman also spearheaded the creation of a sequence of courses on alternative energy within his department that are open to all engineering stutdents.
“This effort confirms his ability to recognize relevant engineering developments with impact on society and to serve as an effective advocate,” said TTU College of Engineering Dean David Huddleston. “He is a good communicator and can present his ideas clearly and effectively to any audience.”
Abdelrahman has published or presented research results through more than 80 papers and 30 technical reports at international, national and regional conferences and in refereed journals.
Biernacki is one of the few chemical engineers in the world who is working on portland cement-based materials. His research interests involve novel methods for characterization of chemical reaction phenomena and mechanical response of portland cement.
In the field of cement-based materials, Biernacki is known internationally for consistently producing innovative and original research, which often makes use of new technology using devices, tools or concepts developed by him and his students.
“Dr. Biernacki has been critical in fundamentally changing the department’s culture, from one almost exclusively dedicated to teaching to an exceptionally balanced approach where research and discovery play a much larger and relevant role,” said TTU’s Chemical Engineering Department Chairperson Pedro Arce.
Biernacki holds the distinction of receiving nine NSF grant awards totaling more than $1.4 million.
Much of his research is conducted in collaboration with colleagues at four national laboratories, providing rare research experiences for TTU graduate and undergraduate students.
Biernacki also has enhanced the infrastructure of the College of Engineering by contributing to the development of a state-of-the-art electron microscopy and x-ray laboratories that may be used across disciplines.
In the arena of external service, Biernacki has held leadership positions in the American Ceramic Society and the American Concrete Institute. With NSF funding, he organized an international workshop on cement hydration kinetics that was attended by some of the world’s leading researchers in the field.
Known for reaching out to the community, Biernacki has offered several workshops to local K-12 teachers and students.
“His desire to help local high school teachers improve their science-teaching skills has inspired me to organize several summer camps for high school teachers and students,” said John Zhu, TTU mechanical engineering professor and last year’s Caplenor Faculty Research Award recipient.
Colleagues have often recognized Biernacki’s excellence in teaching and research. The ACerS featured Biernacki in its 2007 Profiles of Excellence, naming him among five notable scholars from their Cements Division, along with colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other prestigious Research One universities.
Other previous awards and distinctions include the 2008 TTU Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award, 2007 TTU College of Engineering Brown-Henderson Award, 2006 Quality Enhancement Program Award for Innovative Teaching, 2003 Outstanding Faculty Award for Professional Service, 2002 Leighton E. Sissom Innovation and Creativity Award and the 2002 Kinslow Engineering Research Award.