Phillip Jones, Duke Engineering Professor, Dies at Age 56

Phillip JonesPhillip L. Jones, Duke University associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, died Saturday, June 24, at Duke Hospital in Durham after a brief battle with cancer. He was 56.

"Phil had a natural talent and passion for teaching. His students and colleagues loved him and he loved them," said Kristina Johnson, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering.

Jones earned a bachelor of science from the Materials Department of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1971, a M.S. degree in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1977.

He joined Duke in 1977 as an assistant professor in mechanical engineering after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA. His research focused on the emerging field of positron annihilation as a method of characterizing the microstructure of solid materials. Jones contributed to the development of various nondestructive characterization techniques during his career. He was promoted to associate professor in 1984.

Jones was dedicated to education and teaching. In 1985, he was awarded a Faculty Service Award by the School of Engineering. In 1999, he accepted the position of associate dean for education, supporting curriculum development and student affairs for the renamed Pratt School of Engineering. He served in this capacity until 2003, when he became the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.

"Phil's enthusiasm and affection for students was genuine, and reflected back by his students," said Kenneth Hall, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Science. "He was held in high regard by his students as an excellent instructor -- knowledgeable, fair, enthusiastic, and caring."

“Phil was happiest when he was working with undergraduates,” said colleague and friend, Connie Simmons, assistant dean for undergraduate education. “He was always willing to meet with prospective students, and for years gave up his Saturdays to interview prospective football players who were interested in pursuing engineering.”

Coach Scott Brown of the Duke Football Office offered these thoughts. “On behalf of Ted Roof and our entire football staff, we are deeply saddened by the passing of Phil Jones. Phil had a very sincere interest in Duke University as a whole community and would work very hard to help us recruit young prospective student athletes to attend Duke University. Phil had a very keen understanding that not every young man we brought to him was qualified to be admitted to the Pratt School of Engineering; however, he had the ability to present options that would not turn the young man away and ruin our efforts to get the young man and his family to the Duke Campus,” said Brown. “Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family and those of his colleagues who will miss him each and every day.”

“Several years ago I had a parent tell me that the sole reason his daughter was at Duke was because of Phil Jones,” said Earl Dowell, professor of mechanical engineering. “The family had come to Duke for an unscheduled visit and saw a curly-headed man in sandals as they walked the engineering halls. Thinking the man was a graduate student, they asked him some questions and it was only after an hour that they learned Phil Jones was a member of the faculty.”

“The father said ‘If this is the kind of faculty here at Duke, this is the place for my daughter to be.’” said Dowell. “The family was impressed with Phil’s friendliness, unassuming demeanor and willingness to spend so much time with them.”

Rising engineering senior Tzuo Law of the Duke Formula SAE race car team wrote: “Dr. Jones was a kind supporter and adviser of our team and of us as students. He was caring and never failed to ask about how our progress was and if we needed any assistance. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.”

Jones was faculty adviser and friend to Anand Kasbekar, a mechanical engineering major who graduated with a BSE in 1985 and a Ph.D. in 1994. “I have known Phil for 24 years. He was there for his students even after they graduated. He mentored over a dozen successful graduate students. He was proud of us and we were all grateful to him,” said Kasbekar.

Jones was a member of American Society for Metals, American Institute of Metallurgical Engineers, Materials Research Society, Pi Tau Sigma, Mechanical Failures Prevention Group and Sigma Xi.

In honor of the teaching, service and research of Jones, the Pratt School of Engineering has established the Phillip L. Jones Fellowship. The fellowship will be awarded to students in all fields of engineering, with particular consideration given to those students pursuing studies in the fields of materials and photonics.

“It is fitting that Dr. Jones will be honored for his devotion and love of teaching for years to come through this fellowship award,” said Dean Johnson.

Jones is survived by his wife Carolyn, his son Garrett, who graduated from Duke in 2005 majoring in mechanical engineering, and his daughter Allison. He was able to participate in her wedding, held in the hospital a few days before he died, to George Vanos, also a Duke graduate.