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Veerle Keppens
Veerle Keppens

One of the fastest-growing engineering departments at UT will have a new, albeit familiar, face in charge when Veerle Keppens becomes head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering on June 1.

Keppens will take over the helm of the department from Kurt Sickafus, who is retiring from the position after four years.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation for Kurt’s leadership over the last four years and to Veerle for her willingness to accept the new role,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “With the concerted effort of the faculty and staff, I am confident that the department will continue its progress and journey in becoming a more visible high-quality program that supports the university, college, and departmental vision to become Top 25 programs.”

Keppens said being a department head “is one of the more challenging jobs in a university. On the one hand you make decisions that impact the entire department, but at the same time you are working daily with people affected by those decisions.

“This position is one I’m glad to be taking, but a lot of challenges come with it, for certain,” she said.

Keppens also serves as associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Engineering, a role she will continue to fill after taking over as department head. The pairing of those positions brings about another set of considerations, and Keppens said she will work to ensure each position gets the “attention it requires and deserves.”

Keppens came to UT’s College of Engineering in 2003. She has authored or co-authored more than eighty technical papers and contributed to more than seventy technical presentations at national and international conferences, with her main area of expertise being the elastic properties and lattice dynamics of novel materials.

A native of Belgium, she earned her both her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, just east of Brussels.

Her work in materials science has led to accolades and honors including the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship; Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship; countless university, college, and departmental awards; and being named a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. She also leads the Resonant Ultrasound Spectroscopy Group at UT.

The role of materials science—and along with it the profile of the department—has come to prominence in recent years as new alloys, fibers, and techniques have taken over from traditional materials.

At UT, the department has a roughly 4-to-1 student-faculty ratio, one of the lowest in the college, which allows for more hands-on instruction in both the lab and the classroom.

Faculty and students in the field must be experts in design, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and electronics, with their work affecting everything from rocketry to sports. Additionally, the department is one of the key ties between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with many of its faculty holding joint appointments with ORNL.

“I’m fortunate that we have such strong collaborations in place, particularly with labs such as ORNL and with the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials,” said Keppens. “The department has grown a lot recently, both faculty and students. Having those partnerships, and JIAM coming online soon, makes for an exciting time. It is really a good time to be in materials science at UT and see all of these things come together.”

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,