ALUMNI AWARDS FOR RESEARCH EXCELLENCE
By Liz Crumbley
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 26 - April 2, 1998
"One of the side products of being an active researcher is that the excitement that comes from creating new concepts definitely filters down to the classroom and creates an intellectually rich environment for learning," said Professor Seshu Desu, recipient of a 1998 Alumni Award for Research Excellence.
Desu, who holds a joint appointment in electrical engineering and materials science and engineering, has conducted ground-breaking research in the development of thin films for both optical and semiconductor materials. He has been awarded 13 materials and process patents in the area of ferro-electric thin films, which can be used to fabricate nonvolatile, high-speed semi-conductor memories. Since joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1988, he has worked on 30 research contracts with funding totaling more than $7 million. His published technical papers number more than 200.
As director of the Center for Advanced Ceramic Materials and of the Thin Films Laboratory, Desu heads a research group of five visiting professors, four research associates and 12 graduate students.
Before coming to Tech, Desu worked for six years for industry. While a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories, he developed a thin-film process that has been used since 1985 to fabricate very-large-scale integrated (VLSI) semi-conductor memories and devices. As a group leader at General Electric, he led a research team in creating thin-film materials that enabled the company to introduce new high-efficiency light sources to its product line.
Desu's papers in the field of electronic materials, wrote Harvard University Chemistry Professor Roy G. Gordon, "have certainly changed the way I think about electronic materials and their applications, and helped shape my research directions in the field." A recent research breakthrough Desu has made in thin-films applications, Gordon said, "should enable the development of the next generation of computer memory chips."
This remarkable body of research is not an end unto itself for Desu, however. "I truly enjoy and love teaching," he says, "both at the undergraduate and graduate level, as well as providing effective guidance for research students." Although his fellowship as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana did not require teaching, Desu taught introductory and laboratory courses. During his 10 years in the College of Engineering, he has taught 28 sections of 11 different courses, more undergraduate than graduate. He has made the dean's list of outstanding instructors in all except his first semester at Tech and has received a Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the college.
"The most important task of a university professor is to encourage students to be `literate.' I believe that true literacy rests on three pillars: knowledge, understanding, and the wisdom to make judgments," Desu said
By Liz Crumbley
While New Jersey native Joseph A. Schetz was attending the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture on a scholarship in 1957, his imagination was captured by the launch of the "Sputnik" and he decided to enter the field of aerospace engineering. This year, Schetz is being honored for his contributions to that field with the Alumni Award for Research Excellence.
Schetz's career had auspicious beginnings. While completing his Ph.D. at Princeton University, he worked as a member of the research team of the internationally known Italian aerodynamicist, Antonio Ferri, at the General Applied Science Laboratory in Westbury, New York. There, Schetz began his research on high-speed propulsion, and within three years he was named supervisor of combustion research.
After a stint on the faculty of the University of Maryland, Schetz came to Virginia Tech in 1969 as professor and chairman of the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE). During his 24-year tenure as chairman, the size of the AOE faculty nearly tripled, the number of graduate students increased five-fold, and research in both aerospace and ocean engineering expanded significantly. When he retired as department head, Schetz was named the J. Byron Maupin professor of AOE.
At Tech, Schetz is perhaps best known for his research of the magnetic-levitation (MAGLEV) train, which has cars suspended above a track by magnetic forces--no wheels are required--and which could reach speeds of about 300 miles per hour. His work in this area has focused on decreasing the rates of aerodynamic resistance at such high speeds, and Schetz and his graduate students have been sponsored in their studies by NASA and the Federal Railway Administration.
In addition to his research in the aerodynamics of MAGLEV trains, Schetz is active in three other areas. His study of injection and mixing in supersonic flow involves experimental studies in the Virginia Tech, Air Force, and NASA supersonic wind tunnels. Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, describes Schetz as "THE university professor we can call on who can/will organize and conduct creative/difficult research programs which are on target, on cost and on time."
Perhaps as important as his research is Schetz's training and encouragement of students. At Tech he has directed 48 Ph.D. and numerous M.S. students to completion of their research and degrees. His mentorship has not been limited to the university, however. Edward T. Curran, former director and chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force's Propulsion Directorate, says that perhaps Schetz's "most significant and long-lasting contribution has been through his outstanding mentoring of our junior researchers. Joe has helped mold raw talent into world class researchers."