Our History

From its creation more than 75 years ago, Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering has grown into one of the fastest-rising in the nation.

  • The Pratt School of Engineering traces its history back to 1851 when Normal College, a forerunner of Duke University, advertised a Classical course which included engineering for seniors. Normal College became Trinity College in 1859, and engineering was introduced in 1887. The first student to graduate with an engineering degree was C.E.D. Egerton in 1903. When Trinity became Duke University in 1924, engineering underwent vigorous development. In 1927, engineering was organized into separate departments of civil and electrical engineering. The Department of Mechanical Engineering started in 1931. Growth in engineering at Duke in the 1930s closely paralleled the larger departments in arts and sciences. In 1930, there were four faculty members; and in 1938, there were nine. By 1930, 101 students were studying engineering. When Duke established the Division of Engineering in 1937, there were 167 students.

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  • In 1939, following a study, Duke’s Board of Trustees authorizes a College of Engineering. Civil engineering William H. Hall, faculty member since 1915, is made the first dean. The student body grows to 201.

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  • Engineering at Duke grew quickly in response to the demands of World War II. The first women graduated in 1946. All three engineering departments move into the elegant, brick “Old Red” on West Campus in 1947. In 1951, the university created the Research and Development Program for Engineering, which led to a graduate program and served as the foundation of a major national engineering research effort. The R&D program was led by Walter J. Seeley, who came to Duke in 1925 to teach electrical engineering. He became dean in 1953.

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  • The doctor of philosophy was offered in electrical engineering in 1960, followed by a PhD in civil engineering four years later. James L. Meriam leaves the University of California-Berkeley to become dean in 1963. The college is elevated to a professional school in 1966. The school’s first black students graduate two years later. The Division of Biomedical Engineering is established in 1967. In 1971 it becomes the first biomedical engineering department at a university in the United States. George Pearsall becomes dean in 1969. Three years later, Big Red is expanded with the opening of the Engineering Annex. In 1974, Aleksander S. Vesic, who joined Duke as a professor of civil engineering 10 years earlier, is appointed dean. Pearsall steps back in as interim dean following Vesic’s death in 1982. In 1983, Earl H. Dowell leaves Princeton to become dean.

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  • The Nello L. Teer Library Building opens in 1984. Three years later, the Center for Emerging Cardiovascular Technology at Duke becomes the first National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center focused on biomedical research. In 1992, the Hudson Center for Engineering Education opened, followed in 1994 by the Levine Science Research Center—providing badly needed space for growing school. In 1997, the Master of Engineering Management program is established. Kristina M. Johnson becomes dean in 1999. Later that year, the school is named for Class of 1947 electrical engineering graduate and Edmund T. Pratt Jr., who endows the school with a gift of $35 million. At the time, the gift is second only to the 1924 founding gift of James B. Duke.

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  • The Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems was established in 2000. Teaching and research space doubled with the 2004 opening of the 125,000-square-foot Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences (FCIEMAS). Duke celebrated the 75th anniversary of its engineering school in 2014-2015.

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  • In recent years the school has dramatically grown its external research funding and major nationally-awarded research centers, its faculty size and prominence, and its student body and selectivity, making Pratt one of the fastest-rising engineering schools in the country in terms of national rankings.

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  • 1851

    Normal College, a forerunner of Duke University, advertises a classical course for senior students which includes engineering. Normal College becomes Trinity College in 1859.

  • 1887

    Trinity College begins to offer courses in civil engineering and mine engineering. Trinity becomes Duke University in 1924.

  • 1924


    James B. Duke, completes the Indenture of Trust establishing Duke University. The document expresses his wish that an engineering school be part of the new university.

  • 1927

    Departments for civil engineering and electrical engineering are established. Classrooms and labs are located in the Asbury and Bivins building on East Campus. Engineering students live in Southgate Hall (a/k/a “The Shack”).

  • 1928

    Duke creates a Bachelor of Science degree for engineers requiring 138 semester hours, as compared to 126 for the Bachelor of Arts degree.

  • 1930s

    The annual Engineers’ Show becomes a popular event at Duke and in Durham. Students display technological marvels such as television, artificial lighting, a working model of a water filtration plant and a device dubbed The Mystifier, which reveals a person’s height and weight.

  • 1931

    A third academic department, for mechanical engineering, is established.

  • 1937

    The engineering enterprise at Duke covers 30,000 square feet—six times greater than a decade earlier.

A College Is Born

  • 1939

    Duke trustees authorize a College of Engineering, the third undergraduate college at the young university. William H. Hall is dean. Five new professors nearly double the engineering faculty to 12.

  • 1940

    Students write and publish the first issue of The Duke Engineer—a magazine dedicated to the happenings in Duke’s engineering departments, alumni news and student society activities. The publication, renamed DukEngineer in 1941, continues to be published.

  • 1943

    The College of Engineering holds its first commencement exercises early, on April 12. The inaugural group of graduates are sent into a variety of wartime services.

The Postwar Years

  • 1946

    The first women graduate from the College of Engineering: electrical engineers Muriel Theodorsen Williams and Marie Foote Reel.

  • 1948

    The College of Engineering moves to West Campus. Classes are held in the elegant, red-brick New Engineering Building.

  • 1951

    Duke creates a Research & Development Program for Engineering, setting the stage for a graduate program.

  • 1953

    Walter J. Seeley becomes dean.

  • 1957

    The College of Engineering offers the first Master of Science degrees available at Duke.

The Changing ’60s and ’70s

  • 1960

    Duke becomes the first private institution in the Southeast to offer a Doctor of Philosophy in electrical engineering.

  • 1963

    James L. Meriam becomes dean.

  • 1963

    Gene Kendall is the first Black undergraduate engineering student and one of the first five undergraduates to integrate Duke.

  • 1964

    Doctor of Philosophy degrees in civil engineering are offered.

  • 1966

    Duke’s trustees elevate the College of Engineering to the School of Engineering, in “recognition of its professional status and of the stature that it had achieved in its programs of graduate study and research.”

  • 1967

    The Division of Biomedical Engineering is founded “to train people for a new profession which requires more knowledge about medicine than is possessed by the average engineer and more knowledge in engineering than is possessed by the average doctor,” Durham’s Herald-Sun newspaper tells readers.

  • 1968

    The first Black engineers graduate from the School of Engineering: Kenneth Spaulding Chestnut (CE), Charles Hall (EE) and Alfred J. Hooks (ME).

  • 1969

    George W. Pearsall becomes dean. He serves in the role from 1969 to 1974, and again from 1982 to 1983. The school begins to grant the Bachelor of Science in Engineering.

  • 1971

    Biomedical Engineering becomes a full academic department.

  • 1972

    Duke is the first university to have an accredited undergraduate major in biomedical engineering.

  • 1974

    Aleksandar S. Vesic becomes dean. The mechanical engineering department is renamed the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science.

  • 1976

    Fredrick “Fritz” Thurstone and graduate student Olaf von Ramm lay the foundation for the phased-array imaging system that will revolutionize cardiac imaging—paving the way for real-time ultrasound imaging in clinical practice.

A Foundation for the 21st Century

  • 1982

    The civil engineering department becomes the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering.

  • 1983


    Earl H. Dowell becomes dean.

  • 1984


    The Nello L. Teer Building opens. A $1.5 million gift from the Teers is the largest single gift from a Durham family since James B. Duke’s founding gift in 1924.

  • 1984

    A four-decade relationship with industrialist and philanthropist Thomas Lord begins with a gift of $40 million to promote cross-disciplinary research, support excellence in teaching and foster hands-on student projects.

  • 1985


    Henry Petroski publishes “To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design,” the first of a shelf of critically acclaimed books that earn him the title “America’s poet laureate of technology.”

  • 1987

    The CEE department establishes a certificate in architectural engineering. The Center for Emerging Cardiovascular Technology becomes the first National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) focused on biomedical engineering research. Olaf von Ramm and Stephen Smith invent the first real-time 3-D ultrasonic scanner (4-D), now used worldwide in multiple specialties.

  • 1989

    Duke Engineering launches a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, offering summer experiences in engineering to students from across the United States. The Duke REU program is used as a national model.

  • 1990

    Earl Dowell, Kenneth Hall and a MEMS team demonstrate an innovative method of modeling complex, time-varying fluid flows much more efficiently and compactly than ever before, opening up new possibilities for understanding and controlling such flows. Their insights are used to improve the design of airframes and turbines used in power plants and other applications. Ray Ideker, with Patrick Wolf and William Smith (BME), optimize biphasic waveforms for defibrillation of the heart.

  • 1991

    Graduate and adjunct professor Blake S. Wilson develops the continuous interleaved sampling processing strategy for cochlear implants, which has been used to bestow the sensing of hearing to the profoundly deaf. BME’s Howard Clark and Duke cardiologist Richard Stack patent the first bio-absorbable stent.

  • 1992


    The Engineering Building (“Big Red”) is named in honor Fitzgerald S. “Jerry” Hudson, Class of 1946. Hudson was the first engineering graduate to chair the university Board of Trustees.

  • 1994

    The Levine Science Research Center opens, providing vast, new space for the growing engineering school and other Duke research programs.

  • 1995

    The electrical engineering department becomes the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

  • 1996

    Adrian Bejan (MEMS) postulates the constructal law of design and evolution in nature. David Needham (MEMS), working with radiation oncologist Mark Dewhirst, invents a cancer treatment using heat-sensitive liposomes.

  • 1997

    With 12 students, the school launches a master’s degree in engineering management. By 2014, the program educates nearly 300 students in technical and business subjects.

  • 1998

    Biomedical engineer Wanda Krassowska Neu is the first female faculty member to receive tenure in the School of Engineering.

  • 1999


    Kristina M. Johnson becomes the first female dean of engineering at Duke.

  • 1999

    The school is named for Edmund T. Pratt Jr., Class of 1947, in recognition of his philanthropy and service. The pharmaceutical executive endowed the school with a $35 million gift.

  • 1999

    Duke anesthesiologist and biomedical engineer Laura Niklason creates a novel bioreactor system and uses it to grow blood vessels that look and act like the real thing. The discovery ultimately leads to the first U.S. implantation of a bioengineered blood vessel, performed at Duke University Medical Center in 2013. Ashutosh Chilkoti (BME) develops the first elastin-like polypeptide fusion that provides a new method to purify proteins without chromatography – opening a new path to developing drugs with greater potency and fewer side effects.

A New Era for Research

  • 2000

    A $25 million gift by Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Class of 1970, and Patty Wyngaarden Fitzpatrick, Class of 1969, establishes the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics.

  • 2002

    Pratt Undergraduate Research Fellowships are launched, providing opportunities for students to engage in intensive 18-month research experiences with engineering faculty mentors. Gregg Trahey and Kathryn Nightingale (BME) demonstrate a device that uses ultrasound to image and measure stiffness of breast tissue and, eventually, other tissues. The advance allows clinicians to detect and diagnose ailments such as liver scarring and prostate cancer without having to make a single incision in the patient.

  • 2003

    Joseph Izatt’s BME research group demonstrates more than 100-fold improvement in the sensitivity of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) biomedical imaging technology, which he helped develop for imaging delicate structures of the eye while at MIT. Lawrence Carin, Lesie Collins and other Duke electrical and computer engineering researchers develop new data-processing techniques for detecting hidden landmines and other explosive devices. The techniques are now in use by the U.S. military. Miguel Nicolelis, Craig Henriquez and team members at the Duke Center for Neuro-engineering demonstrate that a monkey can control a robotic arm using thought alone, a major breakthrough in the field of brain-machine interfaces.

  • 2004


    The 125,000-square-foot Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences opens. Duke’s Board of Trustees approves naming the facility the Fitzpatrick Center in honor of Michael and Patty Fitzpatrick, who made another major commitment bringing their philanthropic support of engineering education and research to more than $50 million.

  • 2004

    Engineering World Health, co-founded by Robert Malkin in 2001, moves its headquarters to Duke. A global organization that empowers students and professionals to use biomedical engineering skills to improve health care delivery in developing nations, EWH has chapters at engineering schools in six countries.

  • 2005

    The Duke-Coulter Translational Partnership is founded with support from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to promote the development of new technologies to improve patient care. Pratt establishes the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE) – a six-sided, full immersion virtual reality theater. DiVE is the only such facility in the Southeast, and one of just seven in the world. Pratt begins a four-year expansion of its undergraduate class – adding 50 students each fall to raise total enrollment to more than 1,200 by 2009. Pratt collaborates with Effat University to found a School of Engineering for Women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

  • 2006


    David Smith (ECE) and Sir John Pendry of Imperial College, London, introduce the concept of “transformation optics” as a means of designing invisibility cloaks and other exotic optical structures. With support from the Duke-Coulter Translational Partnership, BME’s Nimmi Ramanujam brings to market a novel instrument that uses light waves to detect cancer and assess treatment effectiveness in real time.

  • 2007

    Robert L. Clark becomes dean.

  • 2007


    The 11,400-square-foot Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) opens, providing Duke and the Research Triangle region with a state-of-the-art cleanroom facility and other resources for research.

  • 2007

    The Duke Smart Home at Duke opens. The 6,000-square-foot dorm, home to 10 undergraduate students a year, is a live-in research laboratory focused around a theme of sustainable living. In 2008 it becomes the first LEED Platinum-certified residence hall in the world.

  • 2008

    Thomas C. Katsouleas becomes dean.

  • 2008

    Pratt is chosen to lead a $14.4-million federal project to explore the potential ecological hazards of nanoparticles—the Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). The NSF renews the grant for $15 million in 2013. Duke launches the Center for Metamaterials and Integrated Plasmonics, which in 2009 successfully competes for a $6.25-million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Army Research Office. Lingchong You and BME colleagues engineer a synthetic predator-prey ecosystem using gene circuits. It is considered one of the most influential studies in the new field of synthetic biology.

  • 2009

    Duke takes a national leadership role in preparing engineers to meet the National Academy of Engineering’s new “Grand Challenges for Engineering.” Led by Dean Tom Katsouleas as chair of the NAE’s Advisory Committee on Grand Challenges, Pratt hosts the first national Summit on the Grand Challenges along with University of Southern California and Olin College and starts the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program, now in development at more than 50 U.S. engineering schools. Pratt launches its first online degree program, the distributed Master of Engineering Management.

  • 2010

    Duke’s Board of Trustees approves the Master of Engineering (MEng) degree program, which accepts its first students in the fall. Pratt partners with NC State University’s College of Engineering to create the Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program, designed to stimulate young students’ interest in science and technology. Duke engineers are selected to lead two major federally-funded research programs: MOSAIC (Maximally scalable Optical Senor Array Imaging with Computation), funded by a $24.8 million award from the Department of Defense, and MUSIQC (Modular Universal Scalable Ion-trap Quantum Computer), funded with $15 million from the Army Research Office. Mark Wiesner and researchers in CEINT demonstrate that nanomaterials accumulate in living organisms and can becomes more concentrated the further up the food chain they go, revealing the potential impacts nanotechnology could have on the environment.

  • 2011

    The $20-million Duke Coulter Translational Partnership is founded with support from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to promote the development of new technologies to improve patient care. The Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) is established at Duke with a six-year, $13.6-million NSF grant.

  • 2012

    Jeffrey N. Vinik, Class of 1981, and Penny Vinik establish the $10 million Vinik Faculty Challenge Fund to support recruitment and retention of faculty who focus on complex societal challenges such as engineering and related areas in energy, global health, brain sciences and the environment. In recognition of this and their previous generous gifts to the school, including $5 million in 1999 to help the school expand its facilities, Pratt’s deanship is named in honor of the Viniks. Engineering graduate students launch PhD Plus—one of the country’s first programs to offer entrepreneurship and professional development training tailored for PhD students. Pratt students working with BME’s Bob Malkin invent the Pratt Pouch, a ketchup-packet-like device to improve storage and delievery of medication to prevent HIV transmission in low-resource areas. David Brady (ECE) leads development of the world’s first gigapixel camera, which can capture images with unprecedented detail.

  • 2013

    Duke is awarded two highly competitive Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grants from the Department of Defense: $8.6 million for the Center for Materials Genomics and $7.5 million for a project in acoustic metamaterials. Duke Engineering and seven partner schools establish the Vest Scholarship Program—endorsed by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering—to spur international collaborations focused on the Grand Challenges for Engineering. The first-of-its-kind Global Women’s Health Technologies Center is founded as a partnership between Duke Engineering and Duke Global Health Institute. Duke creates a new undergraduate major in environmental engineering and a new minor in energy engineering.

  • 2014-2015

    Faculty, staff and students celebrate 75 years as an engineering school.

Building for the Future

  • 2015

    George A. Truskey becomes interim dean.

  • 2015

    Duke Engineering spearheads a national initiative to train more engineers to meet societal Grand Challenges. In a letter presented by Dean Tom Katsouleas and partners to President Obama, more than a quarter of U.S. engineering schools pledge to establish educational programs modeled after the Grand Challenge Scholars Program at their institutions, with the goal of graduating more than 20,000 specially trained “Grand Challenge Engineers” by 2025. The Pratt School of Engineering and School of Medicine launch Duke MEDx, a new joint initiative to foster collaboration and innovation between medicine and engineering faculty and students.

  • 2016

    Ravi V. Bellamkonda becomes dean.

  • 2016

    Duke Engineering is selected to receive a $31.9 million award from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity to advance quantum computing. The new multi-institution project is dubbed EURIQA (Error-corrected Universal Reconfigurable Ion-trap Quantum Archetype).

  • 2017


    The Duke Engineering Design Pod opens to house the school’s new First-Year Design course.

  • 2018

    Duke receives a $15 million NSF grant to lead STAQ, a seven-university consortium focused on building the first practical quantum computer. Students in the Duke Electric Vehicles club set a Guinness World Record for the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the planet.

  • 2019

    A four-decade-long relationship between the LORD Foundation and Duke’s engineering school leads to a $261 million distribution to support science and technology education and research at the Pratt School of Engineering as well as financial aid for Duke undergraduate students. It is the largest single outside contribution to Duke’s endowment since the founding of the university in 1924.

  • 2020


    The 81,000-square-foot Wilkinson Building opens. The first classes are held in January 2021. The building is named in honor of longtime supporters Jerry C., Class of 1967, and Beverly A. Wilkinson, and their family.

  • 2021

    Jeffrey T. Glass becomes interim dean.

  • 2022

    Jerome P. Lynch becomes Vinik Dean of Engineering.