Roop Mahajan, the Lewis A. Hester Chair in Engineering and the director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, said Friday he will step down as institute director on June 30, the end of his second term.
“Dr. Mahajan has nurtured a culture at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science where researchers can pursue high-risk, high-reward, transformative ideas,” said President Tim Sands. “From his time at Bell Labs, Roop gained valuable perspective on the role of creativity and spontaneous collaboration in advancing transformational research. We are fortunate that he brought that spirit to our research enterprise at Virginia Tech.”
Mahajan was appointed the first permanent director of the institute, known on campus and in the research world as ICTAS, on July 1, 2006.
He established a research framework for the investment institute built on the converging fields of nanotechnology, biology, cognitive science, and informatics and on emerging technologies including “Big Data,” 3-D printing, and bioinspiration — guided by a mission to provide sustainable solutions for large-scale challenges such as energy and water.
“I will be forever grateful for Roop Mahajan’s service as the institute director over the past 10 years,” said Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering. “People should remember that in 2006 there were no ICTAS buildings, and the annual investment in the institute was very modest. It was a considerable act of faith — I would even say courage — for this internationally celebrated scholar to come to Virginia Tech to lead our nascent effort.”
From humble beginnings, the institute today accounts for two research buildings on the Blacksburg campus, the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, labs and programs at the Virginia Tech Research Center—Arlington, and a research presence in India and Chile.
Mahajan said he plans to travel during a six-month sabbatical beginning July 1 to develop strategic collaborations.
He expects to visit Korea University in Seoul, National Taiwan Ocean University, McMaster University in Canada, and the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University in India. Afterward, he will return to the faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
“There is another facet to Roop Mahajan that I find utterly remarkable,” Benson said. “He is the happiest scholar that I have ever known. Top-tier researchers are often a grimly determined lot. I have never known anyone who could match Roop for the sheer joy that he takes from his research. He also takes great satisfaction from seeing his ICTAS-aided Virginia Tech colleagues succeed.”
Mahajan said he plans to further build the institute’s reputation as a leading center for transformative research.
“I will continue to put forth my best efforts to advance the reputation and strategic goals of the institute and Virginia Tech,” Mahajan said. “I am also looking forward to refocusing my time and effort on my research on nanofibers and thermal management and sustainable solutions for developing communities.”
Mahajan’s pioneering approach leaves the university with an important platform for the future, according to Vice President for Research and Innovation Theresa Mayer.
“Dr. Mahajan is a forward-thinker who has nurtured an interdisciplinary, transformative culture,” Mayer said. “He has enabled faculty and students from different backgrounds to work at the intersections of converging technologies that can address the grand challenges facing society. His passion will be an important legacy.”
Mahajan points to a number of pivotal moments of the past 10 years at the institute. Among the recent ones, Virginia Tech became one of 16 sites in the National Science Foundation-funded National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure and the VT-India ICTAS Innovation Center was established to focus on energy harvesting, nanotechnology, and biotechnology.
In addition, a new Energy and Materials Initiative brings together sustainable energy research programs, and the institute-led Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership became one of the six Federal Aviation Administration test sites for unmanned aircraft, putting Virginia Tech on the map in research and certification.
The institute also helped incubate and support interdisciplinary centers, including the Discovery Analytics Center to meet the needs of today’s data-driven society, and the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, which focuses on challenges of cybersecurity and autonomy in the context of homeland security. Both are in the National Capital Region.
Stefan Duma, the Harry Wyatt Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, will become interim director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science on July 1 for an anticipated two-year term.
“Roop has done a tremendous job establishing a premier research institute,” Duma said. “ICTAS is perfectly positioned to help both young and established faculty rise to the next level of achievement — it is exciting to be a part of that.”
During Duma’s service as interim institute director, Pamela VandeVord, a professor of in the department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, will become the interim department head, Benson said.
Mahajan came to Virginia Tech in 2006 from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he served as a professor of mechanical engineering and the founding director of the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on Advanced Manufacturing and Packaging for Microwave, Optical and Digital Electronics.
Prior to his time in Colorado, Mahajan worked with AT&T Bell Laboratories-Engineering Research Center from 1976 to 1991 conducting and leading research in the thermal sciences, including advancing the fundamental understanding of transport phenomena in vapor phase soldering, chemical vapor deposition, and thermal management.
Mahajan’s many honors and awards include his selection as a Bell Labs Fellow, the company’s highest honor for exceptional technical achievements, and the Heat Transfer Memorial Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of heat transfer.
Mahajan received a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1977 and his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, India.