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Veerle Keppens, Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Working with student ni lab. Photo by Jack Parker Used in Science Alliance Report 2013.

The UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Joint Institute for Advanced Materials has named Veerle Keppens as its new director.

Keppens, current head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in UT’s College of Engineering, brings a knowledge of advanced materials—substances with properties that go beyond the norm in one or more aspects, such as electronically or chemically—that will allow her to transition to the new role without a learning curve.

“Dr. Keppens carries a wealth of materials science knowledge to this position along with a passion for broadening our understanding in these areas of research,” said UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “She has worked well in research partnerships with ORNL and will be a strong leader of the institute.”

UT and ORNL established JIAM in 2005 as a way of bringing together researchers studying those materials, with the impact of that research being as varied as the materials themselves.

Advancements in physics, computer science, building, and energy collection and storage have all benefited from the work done by JIAM researchers.

“Materials research has impacted much of what we take for granted in our everyday world,” said Keppens. “Everything from construction to transportation, from information technology to life-saving medical devices, owes its improvements to the knowledge gained in advanced materials.”

JIAM classifies its research into three areas:

  • Advanced structural materials, including the study of composites, nuclear stresses on materials, the strength of materials and research of materials at the nano level.
  • Soft and hybrid materials, including research into fuel cells, solar cells, polymers and the conversion of heat to electricity.
  • Functional materials and devices, including breakthroughs in renewable energy, resistance-free power transmission and taking electronics beyond the silicone chip.

Keppens earned her undergraduate and doctorate degrees from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in her native Belgium in 1989 and 1995, respectively.

Following her graduation, she served as a Fulbright fellow at ORNL before becoming a Humboldt fellow in Heidelberg, Germany. She returned to the U.S. in 1999 at the University of Mississippi before coming to UT in 2003.

Keppens has helped author more than fifty technical papers, given more than seventy presentations at conferences around the world, and is a Fellow if the Acoustical Society of America, as well as a member of ASM International and the American Physical Society.

She takes over from George Pharr, Chancellor’s Professor and the McKamey Professor of Engineering, who is leaving for another university after the fall semester.

The move caps a busy year for JIAM, which recently moved to its new state-of-the-art 144,000-square-foot facility anchoring Cherokee Farm, UT and ORNL’s research and development park.



David Goddard (865-974-0683,