Engineering Professor Draws More Honors

Engineering professor draws more honors

Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering who prides himself on advancing thermodynamics theory using pencil and paper rather than a fancy lab, has added another plaudit to his long list.

Bejan, who received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1975, has won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers International's (ASME) Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award, a career-spanning honor recognizing outstanding achievement in the field during 20 or more years following graduation.

That was a follow-up to his 1999 Max Jakob Memorial Award, an international honor regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the field of heat transfer (Nobels are not awarded for engineering accomplishments).

He has also received the ASME's 1990 James Harry Potter Gold Medal for "original and unorthodox ideas" in thermodynamics, its 1994 Heat Transfer Memorial Award for "significant and often unconventional contributions," and its 1996 Worcester Reed Warner Medal for his "originality, challenges to orthodoxy and impact on engineering."

In 2000, he won the American Society of Engineering Education's Ralph Coats Roe Medal for outstanding teaching of mechanical engineering.

"Bejan feels his teaching is 'personal and not mindless,' a Pratt School student wrote in the fall 2001 issue of DukEngineer. "He is well-known for using a pencil and paper or chalk on a blackboard to do all of his calculations. Bejan refuses to take part in the wave of Internet teaching, and only uses e-mail for its functionality."

Last year Henry Poincaré University of Nancy, France, awarded him an honorary doctorate - his 10th from foreign universities - for being a "world leader" in the fields of energy and thermal sciences and fluid mechanics as well as his promotion of humanistic values and European culture.

The Poincaré University citation also noted his work in "constructal" theory, a concept he described in his 13th book, Shape and Structure, from Engineering to Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2000), which explores links between natural functions and forms and engineering tenets in his own field.

"Compact heat exchangers, cracked solids, and swarms of honeybees owe their regularly spaced internal channels to the same principle of global optimization of performance," he wrote in his preface.

A key idea is that thermodynamics engineering problems, traffic flow, and many structures in nature involve moving currents searching for "paths of least resistence," he said in an interview. And the geometry of these natural structures and engineering solutions take tree-shaped forms.

Illustrations in his book including many tree shapes, including an actual tree on the Danube near his native Galati in Romania, the country he defected from during its previous communist era.

Bejan's latest book has netted him many invitations to speak at industrial forums. As a sign that the theory is becoming a fixture of engineering, he referred to the "Constructal Webpages," a design method for generating images, posted on the Web by Cooper-Union University students.

He is also proud of being included on the 100 "most cited" list of engineering investigators worldwide in a recent computer survey by the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia. That confirms that "I've been correct in the type of conceptual work I've been doing here at Duke," he said.

"By that I mean work that focuses on ideas, that focuses on methods, that focuses on challenging the status quo."