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Thomas Delivers 12th Annual Tang Lecture

On Thursday, October 20, Dr. Edwin L. “Ned” Thomas ’69, The William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering in the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, delivered the 12th annual Tang Lecture on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The title of his lecture was “The Role of Design-Build Competitions in Enhancing Leadership Skills in Engineering Students.” The Tang Lecture was delivered in the Cape Cod Lounge of the Student Union Building. Dr. Thomas, a Massachusetts native, received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UMass Amherst and is also the former chair of the Polymer Science and Engineering Department here.

Before going to Rice in July of 2011, Dr. Thomas was the chair of the country’s number-one-ranked Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both a materials scientist and a mechanical engineer, Thomas had spent 22 years on the MIT faculty, where he was the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering since 1989.

In 2002 he founded MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), which has received more than $11 million in annual funding and involves some 60 faculty members from 12 departments. The ISN benefits servicemen and women, such as by developing lightweight gear that can help reduce the 100-pound loads in their backpacks and creating a device that can remotely “sniff” for TNT so that humans don’t have to risk their lives getting close to bombs.

Author of the textbook “The Structure of Materials,” Thomas has 14 patents, three of which are licensed to a company he co-founded – OmniGuide – that specializes in revolutionary minimally invasive CO2 surgery. A “perfect mirror” discovered by Thomas and one of his students is employed in flexible, hollow-core photonic fibers for laser surgical applications in endoscopic procedures.

In addition to his role as dean of engineering at Rice, Thomas is a professor in both the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Prior to joining the faculty at MIT, Thomas served on the faculty at the University of Minnesota and then at UMass Amherst. In 2009 he was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Shirley and Ting-wei Tang Endowment Lecture Series brings leaders of engineering-based companies and academic institutions to campus so they can interact with students and faculty and present a major talk. Shirley Tang is a retired academic advisor for the United Asia Learning Resource Center. Emeritus Professor Ting-wei Tang had a distinguished career of 38 years at UMass Amherst. An internationally recognized expert in numerical modeling of semiconductor devices, Professor Tang was elected as an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow in 1999. He received the 2009 Distinguished Faculty Award from UMass Amherst. (October 2011)