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Deans and administrators from each college suggested two faculty members who deserve special “kudos” during Faculty Appreciation Week.

Jason Hayward

Jason HaywardJason Hayward’s research is aimed at changing the technological world through innovations in radiation detection and imaging.

His passion, though, is helping transform students into budding young researchers.

An assistant professor in nuclear engineering, Hayward’s work crosses into physics, electrical engineering and materials science. His three largest research grants are aimed at solving two of the most challenging, important problems in nuclear security: sensing of penetrating radiations from fissile materials at long range, and high-confidence detection of shielded, highly enriched uranium.

He revels in this research because he gets the opportunity to conduct it side-by-side with students.

“I’m most passionate about working with intelligent, motivated students and postdoctoral researchers, both to solve challenging engineering problems and to help develop them into researchers,” Hayward said. “I’ve enjoyed teaching ever since I started teaching engineering as an officer in the Navy.”

Hayward’s research has received significant amounts of funding from a variety of agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy.

“Jason has been with us for precisely three years. During this short time he has brought in $7 million in research funding, which is an astounding accomplishment,” said Department Head Harold Dodds. “He is truly an amazing young man, and we are immensely pleased to have him on our faculty.”

The research Hayward conducts with his students could indeed change the world. His exploration of the challenges facing the nuclear energy renaissance and ways to ensure nuclear nonproliferation have the power to make the world a cleaner and more peaceful place.

“Most of this funding is to solve large, difficult challenges in the area of nuclear security, so I hope to set out to achieve what I promised. Having my research group solve some of these problems would be the big accomplishment,” Hayward said.

Hayward received his doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University.

Veerle Keppens

Veerle Keppens
Associate Professor Veerle Keppens, left, works with a student.

Veerle Keppens wants to do more than just teach her students. She wants to get them enthused about materials science.

“What I like best is seeing the students getting excited about something they just or found out about and saying ‘Wow, this is cool.’ That is what gives me the most satisfaction,” said Keppens, an associate professor in materials science and engineering.

Perhaps that is why many of her students see her as a role model. When she came to UT in 2003, Keppens was one of only 16 full-time female faculty members in engineering. She has served as a faculty adviser for the College of Engineering’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Under her mentorship, SWE’s membership has grown threefold.

“Professor Keppens has been a wonderful adviser to the organization and is a role model to me,” said SWE president-elect and engineering senior Brianna Cooper. “She believes in reaching out to younger generations to keep their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and does this by helping with Girl Scouts, Women in Engineering Day and speaking at our meetings.”

SWE president and engineering senior Gemma Dove added: “Professor Keppens encourages us to be proud of the fact that we are women in pursuit of success in a typically male-dominated field.”

Just as much as Keppens enjoys inspiring undergraduates, she enjoys taking her graduate students into uncharted scientific territory.

“She is very patient and always encourages new ideas,” said doctoral student Yangbin Luan. “She is always there when I need her guidance and help with my research.”

Keppens’ primary area of research is exploring how materials respond to applied stress and how this behavior changes as a function of temperature. She and her students analyze what happens inside the materials, recording property changes at given temperatures.

Dean Wayne Davis sees her as an asset to both her students and colleagues.

“Veerle is an outstanding faculty member who has excelled in both teaching and research,” he said.

Originally from Belgium, Keppens came to East Tennessee as a Fulbright and NATO Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. With a temporary visa, she did not intend to stay in the U.S. permanently, but fate intervened and she met her husband, a staff scientist at ORNL. She received her doctorate and bachelor’s degree from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.