Endowment brings young talent to materials science and engineering

When Wayne Huebner learned that his department had received an endowment of more than $1 million from the estate of G. Robert, ChE’41, and Roberta Couch with just a single requirement — to attract and retain top faculty members in materials science and engineering — he decided to do things a bit differently.

“We elected to invest in the future,” says Huebner, CerE’82, PhD CerE’87, chair of materials science and engineering. “Most of us will retire in 10 or 15 years and we wanted to ensure that the best people come here, so we split it into two assistant professorships. The endowment earnings provide a great start-up package for new faculty and may be the only permanently endowed assistant professorship fund in the entire University of Missouri System”

Mohsen Asle Zaeem and Caizhi Zhou joined Missouri S&T as the Roberta and G. Robert Couch Assistant Professors of Materials Science and Engineering in August 2012 and January 2013, respectively. Both are involved in the Materials Genome Initiative, a public-private endeavor that the Obama administration started to discover, manufacture and deploy advanced materials in half the time and at a fraction of the cost.

“Now if we want to replace a material in a car or an airplane, it takes about 10 years to do all the tests, get the licenses, and install and test it before the material can be approved,” says Asle Zaeem. “We hope to reduce this material cycle to two years.”

The researchers use computational modeling and simulation of materials structures and properties before ever heading to the lab. “We model the microstructure evolution during materials deformation,” says Zhou. “We hope to identify the relationship between microstructure and the macroscopic mechanical response of metals, alloys and advanced structural materials.”

Asle Zaeem says the Couch endowment permitted him to hire a post-doctoral research associate to work on a new type of modeling, called phase field crystal modeling. “This modeling mixes mathematics, physics and thermodynamics. We hope it will eventually be a predictive tool for materials design,” he says.

Couch worked closely with the late Thomas J. O’Keefe, Curators’ Professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering, when Couch was president of the Specialty Division of AMAX Inc., a mining services company.

“Professor O’Keefe really helped Mr. Couch’s company achieve success,” says Huebner. “Mr. Couch said he would create an endowed professorship in this department and we are the grateful recipients of his forward-thinking generosity.” γ

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