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Veerle Keppens
Veerle Keppens

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will have a familiar face as its head for the foreseeable future.

Veerle Keppens, who had been serving as interim head since the June 2015 retirement of Kurt Sickafus, assumed the position on a permanent basis on October 1 following an internal search for candidates.

Keppens, a longtime member of the department, has also served as associate dean for faculty affairs and was recently appointed a 50 percent role as director of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a key partner facility for materials scientists at UT.

“Dr. Keppens is an excellent choice that has been made by the faculty and the search committee and brings a wealth of experience with her,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “The departmental head and director position at JIAM are closely linked since so many faculty members from the department also work at JIAM.”

The department heads in the college each serve in five-year renewable appointments.

For Keppens, the role as continued leader of the department comes with both challenges and rewards.

“Materials science has played an important role in some of the key scientific breakthroughs in recent years as new fibers and alloys have replaced traditional materials,” said Keppens. “The importance of the research we do is reflected in that growth, but it also shows the work that remains to be done and the possibilities that are still out there.

“I’m very honored to be in this position of heading a department that can have such wide-ranging impact.”

Keppens came to UT’s College of Engineering in 2003. She has authored or co-authored more than 80 technical papers and contributed to more than 70 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.

With her acceptance of the full-time role as department head and split leadership of JIAM, she will relinquish her associate dean position.

Davis said a search to fill that position will begin soon, with hopes of having someone in place by January.