Professor Richard James receives prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship

Richard D. James, a University of Minnesota Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, is one of only 10 scientists and engineers nationwide to be selected to receive a 2019 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense—the agency's most prestigious single-investigator award.

The Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship provides $3 million over 5 years to advance transformative, university-based fundamental research. The fellowship will support James’ research on the discovery of materials using advanced mathematical concepts, with a focus on phase transformations in crystals. 

“I am truly honored to receive this award,” James said. “Our work is at the intersection of mathematics, materials science and mechanics, and, above all, this is recognition for highly interdisciplinary research. It will allow us to explore the possible existence of materials, such as a shape-memory ceramic, a crystal that undergoes light-induced phase transformation, and a ideally soft magnetic material, that are considered sufficiently unlikely as to be outside the realm of ordinary funded research.”

A subaward of the project will go to James’ collaborator Professor Bharat Jalan, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.  Jalan pioneered the synthesis of thin films of advanced materials by hybrid molecular beam epitaxy.  The James-Jalan team is designed to translate theoretical predictions into unprecedented materials without delay.

“Professor James is a pioneer in the science and engineering of functional materials, and we are extremely proud of the richly-deserved recognition and support he is receiving as a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow,” said University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering Dean Mos Kaveh. “As a college of science and engineering we take great pride in our culture of multidisciplinary research and education across sciences, mathematics, and engineering. The partnership between Professors James of aerospace engineering and mechanics and Jalan of the chemical engineering and materials science is a great example of such a collaboration.”

Professor James’ collaborators around the world agree that multidisciplinary research is key to big discoveries.

“As a longstanding mathematical collaborator of Professor James, I have always been struck by his unswerving belief in the power of mathematics to describe materials,” said Sir John Ball, a mathematics professor at Heriot Watt in the United Kingdom. “It is this belief that enabled him and his research group to find alloys with special compositions allowing unusual microstructure geometry that has resulted in amazing properties to form the backdrop for this very well-deserved award.”

In addition to his research, James has advised graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that hold prestigious positions in diverse institutions in academia and industry. He previously has received the Theodore von Karman Prize from SIAM, the William Prager Medal from the Society of Engineering Science, the Warner Koiter medal from ASME, the Brown Engineering Alumni Medal, the George Taylor Research Award and an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award.

Formerly known as the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, the Vannevar Bush Fellowship supports out-of-the-box ideas where researcher creativity intersects with the unknown, and is named in honor of Dr. Vannevar Bush, the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development after World War II. The fellowship supports top-tier researchers at U.S. universities whose high-risk, high-payoff work is of strategic importance to the Department of Defense.

“The Department of Defense is the home of big ideas for unique problem sets,” said Dr. Bindu Nair, deputy director for Basic Research in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “The Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship reflects the department's commitment to support paradigm-shifting research that explores the unknown, engages outstanding scientists and engineers on these challenges, and helps to define and transform our research agendas of the future.”

To see the entire list of 2019 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellows, visit the U.S. Department of Defense website.

To learn more about Professor Richard James, visit his Research page.


About Dr. Vannevar Bush

The fellowship is named for Dr. Vannevar Bush, scientist, inventor and statesman who, following WWII, advocated for the formation of the National Science Foundation.  In a profoundly influential career, Bush invented new analog computers, theorized about advancements in both hardware and software that anticipated the foundations of the information society in his influential article, “As we may think”, and advised graduate students such as Harold Hazen and Claude Shannon.  As an administrator, he led the Carnegie Institution and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor of NASA), the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
Notably, Bush was awarded the Edison Medal for “new applications of mathematics to engineering problems”.