Testament to Drzal

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Oct. 12, 2015

Alumni return to honor Professor Lawrence Drzal’s contributions

They came from far away countries, top companies, and competing universities to honor their mentor, colleague, and their friend.

An honorary symposium celebrating the lifelong achievements of University Distinguished Professor Lawrence T. Drzal drew an impressive crowd during the American Society for Composites 30th Technical Conference on Sept. 29 at Michigan State University.An honorary symposium honoring Professor Lawrence Drzal (center) attracted his former students from multiple countries and states.

Drzal’s accomplishments during his 30 years as professor of chemical engineering and materials science and director of the MSU Composite Material & Structures Center (CMSC) were the focus of the half-day academic conference. Michael Rich, senior research specialist and laboratory manager at CMSC, coordinated the event.

CMSC prepares graduate and undergraduate students for research on composite materials, fabrication, processing, and design. CMSC also aids in transferring composites technology to industry.

“We’re here to celebrate the wondrous 30 years of Larry Drzal,” said MSU College of Engineering Dean Leo Kempel, as he opened the session. “We’ll explore this mentor and fantastic faculty member, not just in the composites area, but as a mentor to junior faculty as well,” Kempel continued. “In 30 years, the composite center and Larry Drzal have made an important impact on the university, the state, and the country.”

Drzal said, “Science and engineering advance because of the work of those that preceded us. It is a real honor to be recognized by your peers, colleagues, and especially former students at an occasion such as this,” Drzal said. “I am very pleased to have been part of their education, to witness their professional success, and to acknowledge that it was through their efforts that we all have made a contribution to the field of composite materials.

“The commitment of MSU, the College of Engineering, and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science to the establishment and support of the Composite Materials and Structures Center was also a key factor in these achievements,” he added.

MSU Dean of Engineering Leo Kempel said, "In 30 years, the composite center and Larry Drzal have made an important impact on the university, the state, and the country."

Lawrence T. Drzal 

Drzal received his PhD in chemical engineering (1974) from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and holds a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Detroit (1967).

He worked as a materials research engineer at the U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, from 1977 to 1985. His research on carbon fiber-epoxy matrix interfacial phenomena helped earn him one of the Air Force’s highest awards, the Charles J. Cleary Scientific Materials Research Award, in 1979.

Drzal founded MSU’s Composite Material & Structures Center in 1985 and has turned it into a national multidisciplinary research facility. 

That began the long list of Drzal’s MSU accomplishments:

  • 1985 - associate professor, chemical engineering
  • 1985 – director, MSU CMSU
  • 1986 - professor, chemical engineering
  • 1989 ‑ professor, materials science and mechanics
  • 1991 - co-director, NSF State Industry University Center for Low-Cost, High-Speed Polymer Composites Processing
  • 1992 - Withrow Distinguished Scholar Award, MSU College of Engineering
  • 1993 - Distinguished Faculty Award
  • 1997 - University Distinguished Professor
  • 2007 - Co-founder of XG Sciences, Inc.
  • 2009 - Chief Scientist, XG Sciences, Inc.
  • 2015 - Director, Vehicle Applications, U.S. Department of Energy Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation

Drzal, who is a fellow in six professional societies, is a highly cited author, inventor, and well known for his service to the composite industry. His vitae includes almost 500 professional publications, 650 technical presentations, 10,500 citations, and his work has been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

Martin Hawley, who served as chair of MSU’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science for many years, noted that it is Drzal’s work as a professor and mentor that may be his greatest achievement.

Drzal’s 28 master’s students, 29 PhD students, and numerous visiting scholars are now chemical engineering and materials innovators around the world. Even just a short list includes:

Gerhard Kalinka, who was a CMSC visiting scholar in 1997, and has been a scientific assistant at Berlin’s Technische Universität since 1991.

Pedro Herrera-Franco (PhD ’86) has been Investigador Titular Centro de Investigación Cientifica de Yucatan since 1993.

Vladimir Cech, a CMSC visiting scholar from 2009 to 2012, is now a professor at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic.

Wanjun Liu, a research specialist at CMSC from 2002-2011, is a senior scientist at BorgWarner in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Kyriaki Kalaitzidou (PhD ’06) is an associate professor at Georgia Tech.

Madhu Madhukar, a research associate from 1988-1990, is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee.

Brian Erickson (MS ’93) is director of engineering and continuous improvement at Haworth, a company that designs and manufactures adaptable workspaces in Holland, Mich.

Brent Larson (PhD ’93) is the senior materials engineer, global advanced technology, at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, in Findlay, Ohio.

Sanjib Biswas (PhD ’10) is an associate scientist at Dow Chemical Company.

Gabe Wing (MS ’99) is the director of environmental health and safety at Herman Miller, Inc., in Zeeland, Mich.

Even Drzal’s first PhD student at MSU returned for the reunion. Shri Iyer (PhD ‘90 ) travelled from Houston to attend the honorary symposium. Iyer has been on the investment team at Three Cities Research since 2004 and has focused on strategy and operations in global chemical companies during his career.The honorary symposium provided a happy reunion for Professor Drzal (left), Ahmed Al-Ostaz (PhD '96), now director of the Nano Infrastructure Lab at the University of Mississippi, and Shri Iyer (PhD '90) Drzal's first PhD student now at Three Cities Research in Houston.