You are here

Duke Names Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science Department for Benefactor Thomas Lord

MEMS department and chair position named to recognize long-term contributions of former LORD Corporation chair Thomas Lord and president Donald Alstadt to the Pratt School of Engineering

Duke University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science will become the first department at the university to be named in honor of a benefactor, following approval by the Board of Trustees.

The Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science recognizes the transformative contributions of the late Thomas Lord, chairman and CEO of LORD Corporation, who established the Lord Foundation of North Carolina (LFNC) with $40 million in stock holdings in 1984 to support research, teaching and programming in engineering and related programs at Duke University.

Over 35 years, LFNC generated more than $47 million for a wide variety of programs and activities in the Pratt School of Engineering.

“Tom Lord’s original investment has enabled the remarkable evolution of engineering at Duke over the decades, and his support continues to provide an invaluable source of flexible support to fuel our education and research missions. We are delighted to create our first named department at Duke as a permanent way to honor his vision and impact.”

Vincent Price
president of Duke University

In 2019, following the sale of LORD Corporation to Parker-Hannifin, Duke and three other research institutions selected as beneficiaries by Thomas Lord received a total distribution of over $1 billion through their respective foundations.

Thomas Lord

The $261 million allocation to Duke was designated for the university’s endowment to provide a permanent source of long-term support for science and technology education and research at the Pratt School of Engineering, as well as financial aid for undergraduate students across Duke. It was the largest single outside contribution to the fund since the founding of the university in 1924.

“Tom Lord’s original investment has enabled the remarkable evolution of engineering at Duke over the decades, and his support continues to provide an invaluable source of flexible support to fuel our education and research missions,” said Vincent Price, president of Duke University.  “We are delighted to create our first named department at Duke as a permanent way to honor his vision and impact.”

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) was selected for naming in part to recognize the LORD Corporation’s roots in mechanical engineering innovation, as well as the strong ties between the company and two former Duke Engineering deans, George Pearsall and Earl Dowell (currently the William Holland Hall Distinguished Professor in MEMS).

(Read about the history of the LFNC and Duke)

Duke MEMS facts and figures
  • 480
    undergraduate, master's and PhD students
  • #10
    faculty research productivity in the U.S.
  • $10
    million in new faculty research awards, fiscal 2020
  • 40+
    faculty members

Sources: Academic Analytics, Duke University

Duke MEMS Chair Named for Alstadt

In addition, the MEMS department chair position will be named in honor of Donald M. Alstadt, former president of LORD Corporation and 24-year member of the Pratt School’s Board of Visitors, who originally introduced Thomas Lord to Duke.   

“MEMS at Duke is a thriving department with strong faculty leading advances in areas such as materials discovery, biomedical devices and materials, energy and autonomous systems, as well as a track record of educating students who go on to become leaders and innovators,” said Ravi Bellamkonda, the Vinik Dean of Engineering. “While the LORD funds benefit research and education across the entire Pratt School, naming the MEMS department is a wonderful way to pay tribute to Tom Lord’s spirit of innovation, and the named chair to recognize Donald Alstadt’s pivotal role in the partnership that continues to advance Duke Engineering and the university as a whole.”

"Naming the MEMS department is a wonderful way to pay tribute to Tom Lord’s spirit of innovation, and the named chair to recognize Donald Alstadt’s pivotal role in the partnership that continues to advance Duke Engineering and the university as a whole.”

Ravi Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering

The Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science includes more than 40 faculty—including three members of the National Academy of Engineering—along with 160 doctoral and master’s students and 320 undergraduate majors.

It has more than 3,500 active alumni across the U.S. and worldwide. With external research funding nearly doubling over the past seven years to approximately $10 million in new awards annually, Duke MEMS currently ranks #10 among U.S. mechanical engineering departments in research productivity per faculty member, according to Academic Analytics.

Cate Brinson, an internationally known soft-matter expert, will be the first Donald M. Alstadt Chair; she will also continue to hold the Sharon C. and Harold L. Yoh, III Professorship in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.

Under her leadership, department priorities include building on Duke MEMS’s strengths in interdisciplinary research; transforming teaching labs to support the faculty’s vision for personalized, hands-on engineering design education; and attracting a diverse group of talented students to the fields of mechanical engineering and materials science through paid undergraduate research experiences and graduate fellowships.

Donald M. Alstadt (left) and Cate Brinson (right)

“Duke MEMS is an exciting place, at the true intersection of mechanical and materials engineering. Our faculty are making discoveries and developing innovations with applications ranging from aerospace to human health, and our amazing students are passionate about using mechanical and materials engineering principles to make a difference in the world,” said Brinson. “I am delighted that we will now be known as the ‘Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science’ in recognition of a fellow engineer with vision and a commitment to investing in the future. Thanks to Tom Lord and Don Alstadt, we are poised to build on the great potential of engineering at Duke and beyond.”

"Our faculty are making discoveries and developing innovations with applications ranging from aerospace to human health, and our amazing students are passionate about using mechanical and materials engineering principles to make a difference in the world. Thanks to Tom Lord and Don Alstadt, Duke MEMS is poised to build on the great potential of engineering at Duke and beyond.”

Cate Brinson
Donald M. Alstadt Chair

Thomas Lord and Donald Alstadt were true visionaries who pioneered significant advances in mechanical engineering, materials science and chemistry, and believed that innovation combined with corporate social responsibility could yield vast benefits for society, noted lawyer Mickey Pohl, who since the early 1980s was part of the corporate governance structure of LORD Corporation and Jura Corporation (created by Lord’s estate plan as a holding company for stock in LORD Corporation).  Their belief that renowned education and research institutions would be critical drivers of such advances led to the creation of Lord’s estate plan to benefit a few selected institutions they had identified as exemplary leaders, including Duke, he added.

“Tom Lord and Don Alstadt would be absolutely delighted to see this come to fruition,” said Pohl. “They loved what they had seen being done at Duke and I am certain that they would be most pleased with what Duke has done, and will continue to do, with the resources generated through LORD Corporation and the Lord Foundation. Mr. Lord’s vision and generosity, embodied in his unique estate plan, has become a great story in philanthropy.”

Learn More