Going the Extra Mile: College of Engineering Spotlights Irick, Melcher

2016 Faculty Appreciation TN Today V0.1_150Our new Experience Learning initiative recognizes that learning is enhanced—and more enjoyable—when lessons are used to experiment, solve problems, and innovate. It challenges faculty to look for new and creative ways to work with students. As part of Faculty Appreciation Week 2016, here is a look at two College of Engineering faculty members who “go the extra mile” in their teaching, research, and outreach.

David “Butch” Irick

From June 1-12, 2014, teams gathered for the EcoCAR 2 Year Three Competition at the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan and at locations throughout Washington, DC to compete in more than a dozen technical, communications, and business events. Throughout the ten days, vehicles participate in engineering test similar to those conducted by the automotive industry to determine a prototype's readiness for production, and ultimately prove the viability of their advanced technology vehicles.

David “Butch” Irick, third from left, addresses EcoCAR 2 team members during an event. Irick, a research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, has spent more than twenty-five years helping UT’s teams in such competitions.

The time has passed when the sight of a hybrid vehicle might bring stares of curiosity or questions about how you fuel the car.

Butch Irick, a research assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has been in the driver’s seat as the technology has moved from experimental to commonplace. His history with hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels spans decades.

Not only is he an expert in the field, he’s also a seasoned vet of shifting technology, research, and consumer tastes.

As faculty advisor for UT’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition program since the early 1990s, Irick has helped students engage in real-world vehicle development, from computer-aided design to developing marketing collateral. The current EcoCAR 3 team is disassembling and rebuildling a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro as a hybrid vehicle.

“The goals and methods of each multiyear challenge evolve with the times, but at their heart, they always focus on increasing vehicle efficiency without having to sacrifice performance or consumer acceptability,” said Irick. “Along the way, our students have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to design and work on vehicles, which helps them immensely after graduation.”

The numbers back up Irick’s point.

More than eight hundred UT students have gone through one iteration of UT AVTC teams or another since 1989, with many finding employment inside the automotive industry upon completion.

General Motors alone has hired more than ten of these students from the last two teams, with the company noting that such employees have a much easier transition and higher impact than those who weren’t in the competitions.

Because of his expertise, Irick has been able to enlist several national companies beyond GM to support this student teams. Among those are DENSO, MAHLE, JTEKT, and the Electric Power Research Institute.

Matthew Mench, head of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, said students are lucky to have a mentor like Irick.

“Through his work to develop various sponsored programs in hybrid vehicle design for the past quarter-century, Dr. Irick has had a transformative impact on hundreds of students,” said Mench. “Many students from these automotive programs have been hired right out of school by major automotive manufacturers, meaning he has had real impact not only in the classroom and out on the test track but also in their careers.”

Chuck Melcher

Melcher

Chuck Melcher, director of the Scintillation Materials Research Center at UT and a research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, holds one of the crystals produced by his lab.

At first glance, two of the biggest challenges facing our world today—cancer and terrorism—don’t seem to have much in common.

For Chuck Melcher, however, taking on those two scourges falls directly in line with his research.

Melcher, a research professor of materials science and engineering, serves as director of the Scintillation Materials Research Center at UT.

Scintillators are materials that emit light when in the presence of radiation, which makes them a critical component in the detectors used to track potentially illegal transport of radioactive materials.

That same light-emitting ability also makes them a vital tool in the early diagnosis of cancer by vastly improving the imaging used in Positron Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography, better known as PET and CT, scans.

The work we do is focused on improving scintillation materials, but in doing so it helps out those two seemingly unrelated areas,” said Melcher. “Just last month we had three members of our center speak at various international conferences that addressed many of those advances, which serves as a great acknowledgment both of our center and of UT in general.”

One of the primary goals of the center is to lower the cost of the technology in order to broaden its availability.

In the ten years since its founding, the center has led the development of crystals that carry a greatly reduced price tag without losing detection capabilities.

He helped discover one such crystal, LSO.

Melcher holds thirteen U.S. patents, has written more than a hundred peer-reviewed articles, and has had his work cited more than three thousand times, highlighting his importance far beyond UT.

“The amount of research he has helped generate and the discoveries that have been made through the center speak volumes about Dr. Melcher,” said Veerle Keppens, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Engineering.

“He is a strong asset, not only for UT but for materials science in general.”

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)