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DukEngineer Magazine 2021

In this issue: The New Wilkinson Building Opens, Responding and Adapting to a Pandemic, Neurosurgical Holograms and Tomorrow’s Wearable Tech, A New EngEn for Innovation and more.

Scroll down to view all the stories!

Meet the Editors


GooneratneMary Gooneratne is a senior concluding studies in electrical and computer engineering and computer science. At Duke, she’s actively involved with the Duke Applied Machine Learning Group, the Baldwin Scholars program, and the DTech scholars program. She’s grateful for the way in which Pratt has fostered her love for technology and innovation. Outside of the classroom she loves to run and read.

Editorial Team

AbdulrahmanAce Abdulrahman is a first-year international student considering BME/ECE. He is interested in studying the brain and seeks research opportunities in neurobiology. On campus, Ace is also involved with Blackwell-Randolph House Council, AMA club and research in the School of Medicine. In his leisure, he enjoys playing soccer, practicing calisthenics and journaling.

BurrowWoodley Burrow is a junior from Houston, Texas studying mechanical engineering.

CobbKatie Cobb is a junior from Olney, Maryland studying ME with a certificate in Energy and the Environment. She is passionate about renewable energy engineering and sustainability.

DemeloAnna Demelo is a freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina. She intends to major in biomedical engineering. On campus, Anna is involved in the Duke Catholic Center, DEID and The Muse.

HegdeShreyas Hegde is a PhD student in the Aeroelasticity lab advised by Prof. Bob Kielb. His research is in the area of unsteady aerodynamics and aeromechanics of aircraft engines. He is an aviation enthusiast and intends to pursue a career in that field. Apart from his research, Shreyas is a part of several on-campus organizations in various leadership roles including the Duke Hyperloop team and the GPSC. During his free time he mostly reads business news related to the aviation industry.

LeeSunggun Lee is a freshman from Boise, Idaho studying biomedical engineering. He is interested in developing models and systems for medical purposes. Sunggun is also involved in Duke Engineers for International Development, Engineering World Health, and Duke Cru. In his free time he likes to play soccer, listen and play music, and spend time with his family.

RawlingsWill Rawlings is a junior studying mechanical engineering and earth/ocean sciences. He is interested in the renewable energy industry and hopes to help in the fight against climate change. Will is also on the editorial board for Duke’s Independent Film Festival and on the executive team of Audacity Labs, a non-profit founded by Duke students to expose high schoolers to technology and entrepreneurship skills. In his free time, he enjoys playing sports, film photography and hiking.

TruittLuke Truitt is a senior graduating with degrees in ECE, economics and CS. He’s from St. Cloud, MN, is a Scorpio, and generally enjoys long walks on beaches. At Duke, he helps lead the Duke Speech Team and the Duke Applied Machine Learning Group. He’s interested in artificial intelligence, behavioral economics, financial technologies and the religious development of the Southwest United States. He spends most of his time outside of work with his pet rat, Jakoby, who turned one on January 12, 2021.

WesslerGarrett McKeown Wessler is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. He works in David Mitzi’s lab and his research focuses on the discovery and development of new and complex materials for energy applications. Garrett spends his free time exploring Durham and hiking with his wife and dog.

Letter from the Dean

As I write this letter in March 2021, a full year after the pandemic began making major changes to all of our lives, I can’t imagine being more proud of how Duke Engineering has handled this year like no other. When the challenges arose, our students, faculty and staff rose to them with the enthusiasm, ingenuity and dedication that makes this school so special.

We used existing collaborations among engineering departments and Duke’s medical and nursing schools to launch the COVID Engineering Response Team, which instituted a rapid but rigorous design process to engineer devices such as improved face shields, isolation tents for patient beds and modifications for common equipment to protect first-line responders worldwide. Student leaders banded together with our new Engineering Entrepreneurship (EngEn) team to find new virtual opportunities for summer internships. We created lab kits and shipped them to students around the world to ensure they could still participate in the hands-on courses that define our undergraduate curriculum. And for those who were able to return to campus in person, our student clubs and teams rearranged workspaces and schedules to safely continue their inspirational projects.

While I marvel and rejoice in our community’s resourcefulness and commitment to education and each other in the face of such rare adversity, it is also a bittersweet moment for me as this will be my final Dean’s Letter in the DukEngineer Magazine. As many of you have heard by now, I have accepted the opportunity to serve Emory University as their next Provost and Executive Vice President starting July 1, 2021. The past five years serving as the Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering has been an honor and a joy, and I believe the school is in a prime position to continue its incredible upward trajectory.

This January, we opened the new Wilkinson Building for student classes—a beautiful facility that includes the first specially designed active-learning classrooms on campus, and expands our student learning space by 50 percent. Our faculty has not only grown in numbers while maintaining our leadership in signature areas such as Aeroelasticity, but new awards for research have increased by 30 percent to a record $97 million last year. A testament to our ability to recruit outstanding teachers and researchers can be found in the hiring of biomedical engineer/entrepreneur extraordinaire Cameron McIntyre and expert in smart materials and wearable devices Xiaoyue Ni, to name just a few.

We have reimagined our undergraduate experience, including introducing our signature First-Year Design course and new programs in engineering entrepreneurship and ethics, purpose and meaning. We have also maintained innovative options that provide flexibility such as our IDEAS Program, which provides students a path for creating their own unique major.

Ravi Bellamkonda

“Duke Engineering owes its present strength to everyone who has contributed to our vision over the years, and its future is particularly bright thanks to our incredible faculty, staff, parents and alumni, and most of all our amazing students.”

There is still much to do, of course. Our work against systemic racism, efforts to build community and an inclusive culture, and the cause of student, staff and faculty well-being, especially as we emerge from the COVID pandemic, must carry on strong. I’m confident that we are heading in the correct direction and having some of the tough conversations that must take place, and am especially encouraged by the proactive leadership I have seen through events such as our student-led Engineering While Black program. Provost Sally Kornbluth, who is a staunch advocate for Pratt and our vision, has made plans to ensure that our strong momentum continues throughout this transition. She has appointed longtime ECE professor and Senior Associate Dean Jeff Glass as Pratt’s interim dean while launching a national search for the next Vinik Dean of Engineering.

Needless to say, both my wife, Lalita, and I will miss Duke very much. Duke is family, and Duke and Durham will always be a part of our lives—we are fellow Duke parents whose son is a current senior, after all! But Duke is “in” us more deeply; it is a very hard place to leave because it is a good place in the true sense of the word—its people and its spirit are committed to making the world a better place. I will truly miss being a day-to-day part of this vibrant community.

Duke Engineering is not about individuals, however; we have a shared culture of success, of rising higher, of outrageous ambition that will undoubtedly persist on the foundation we’ve collectively laid over the past few years. None of what we’ve achieved would have been possible without the incredible talent and vision already here. Duke Engineering owes its present strength to everyone who has contributed to our vision over the years, and its future is particularly bright thanks to our incredible faculty, staff, parents and alumni, and most of all our amazing students.

My profound thanks to all of you for supporting our journey—we would not be where we are without your belief in Duke and its vision and energy. Like you, I will always be a part of the Duke family, both as a Duke parent, and as one who will always be first to wish our students, and our beloved Duke, nothing but soaring success.

Ravi V. Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering

Letter from the ESG President

For years, Engineering Student Government’s mission has been to enrich the lives of our engineering student body. In a time of such uncertainty, we aim to support students socially and academically even more than ever before. This year has not been easy, but every day I am impressed by the resilience of my peers and look forward to when we can all gather again on the Harrington Quad or in our beautiful new Wilkinson Building.

Duke Engineering students have had to navigate a shift to virtual labs, online office hours, remote internships and Zoom meetings for group projects. Pratt student groups have found creative ways to remain engaged this semester, through guest speakers and skills workshops offered online. Fortunately, Pratt clubs secured permission to reserve design spaces to continue projects—with proper masking and social distancing—thanks to an understanding that engineering projects require in-person collaboration.


“Pratt student groups have found creative ways to remain engaged this semester, through guest speakers and skills workshops offered online.”

Similarly, many ESG events are based around building community through social events, so navigating the shift to virtual activities was certainly a challenge. We had to say goodbye to our iconic E-Ball and E-Picnics, and there were no weekly Friday hangouts at Twinnies for E-Socials. We started hosting virtual E-socials (e-E-socials) with some student groups and companies. Because of Zoom fatigue, virtual event participation is not on pace with our prior bustling E-socials, yet we were thrilled when just one student showed up to our “Meet ESG” E-social. Forming a connection with even one new student is so important at this time.

After a racial reckoning this past summer, ESG recognized its responsibility as leaders in the Pratt School of Engineering to speak up about injustice in the field of engineering. We teamed up with Duke’s chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers to host Engineering While Black, a week dedicated to raising awareness about racial inequalities and funds toward supporting minorities in STEM. Together we hosted Zoom webinars with local foundations dedicated to racial justice work and with professors and professionals of color in the field of engineering. Later in the semester, we invited Pratt students to join the members of ESG in a Race 101 workshop hosted by the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Following these conversations, ESG added a requirement for Pratt clubs to demonstrate their own commitment to diversity and inclusion during their funding proposals. I would like to thank seniors Alexa Tannenbaum and Matthew Jaynes for their diligent work in planning this event.

In the year ahead, ESG looks forward to welcoming everyone back to our regularly scheduled programming of live and in-person E-Ball and E-Picnics. Moreover, we are committed to working toward a more inclusive engineering community at Duke and beyond.

Emma Steadman
ESG President

Letter from the EGSC President

One of the main reasons why I decided to attend Duke was the Pratt graduate student community. At most of my other school visits, recruitments were department-only events, where I only got to speak with other prospective and current graduate students in civil and
environmental engineering programs. However, on my Duke visit, I was able to talk with students interested in machine learning, air pollution chemistry, biomechanics, tissue engineering and various other research areas outside of my specialty. I was immersed in the Pratt student community where department boundaries didn’t dictate your social circle. Duke really made an effort for me to meet students across all of Pratt, instead keeping me in a silo. This was just my first encounter with the graduate student community here at Duke.

Once on campus, I saw that these gatherings of all of Pratt were not just for recruitment, but a common occurrence. I saw during my first year that the Engineering Graduate Student Council (EGSC) was one of the main facilitators for this sense of community among our students. I’ve been lucky enough to be serving my third year on the EGSC board with stints as CEE rep/diversity and inclusion rep (2018-2019), vice president (2019-2020), and now president (2020-2021). Being a part of EGSC has been one of the highlights of my time here at Duke; helping to organize Pratt tents for Campout, watching Duke vs. UNC at the Krafthouse, volunteering with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, our annual Envisioning the Invisible Contest, cornhole tournaments, our weekly Pratt Chats, and so much more. I was ecstatic to help to grow this organization as president this past year and help our community grow stronger and more cohesive. But then COVID-19 hit the United States.

I was not expecting my tenure as EGSC president to involve a global pandemic shutting down campus for months and isolating the Pratt graduate student community from one another. EGSC’s number-one priority became keeping our graduate student community, as well as the greater Duke and Durham community, as safe as possible. This meant stopping all in-person programming and adhering to all CDC and Duke health and safety guidelines. However, to try and cultivate that sense of community that makes Pratt so unique, we began switching our programming to Zoom and online-based activities. From virtual happy hours to game nights to trivia, we’ve been doing our best to stay connected to the Duke community during these difficult times.

One of our most successful events was a First-Year Virtual Mixer, where we split groups of first-year students into various groups with senior graduate students to fill out Social Distancing Bingo Cards. It was a great opportunity for first-years to meet other students, while also interacting with more senior graduate students. EGSC was also successful at advocating for graduate students to have access to online programming from Duke Recreation & Physical Education. We felt that it was extremely pertinent to not cut graduate students off from resources promoting physical well-being during an extremely stressful and difficult time. We were able to then have the Graduate School instate online recreation memberships for all graduate students who wanted one. EGSC is still committed to advocating for our students even through these unprecedented times.


“This team has been incredible during these challenging times. Having to adapt based on the ever-changing situation has not been easy, and I cannot be more grateful for their hard work and dedication.”

As the year continues, we’re trying to ramp up our online programming as COVID-19 persists. We planned a virtual cooking class for snacks to serve at your stay-at-home Super Bowl viewing, and plan on continuing virtual happy hours and game nights. We also hope to increase our outreach to the Durham community in a safe and socially distant way. For recruiting, we still want to demonstrate the strong sense of community here at Pratt by having office hours with EGSC board members to talk all things Duke. All of this would not be possible without the amazing 2020-2021 Board:

  • Kat Horvath, Vice-President
  • Ellery Jones, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Shanmanthi Manoharan, Communications Director
  • Shreyas Hedge, Treasurer
  • Karsten Pouslen, MEMS
  • Mitchell Abrams, BME Rep
  • Andrew Middleton, CEE Rep
  • Brittani Carroll, ECE Rep

This team has been incredible during these challenging times. Having to adapt based on the ever-changing situation has not been easy, and I cannot be more grateful for their hard work and dedication. EGSC hopes to return to in-person activities once it is safe to do so, and we can’t wait to experience that great in-person community we miss so much. Until we can enjoy a drink on Harrington Quad on a Friday evening, stay safe!

Jake Ulrich
EGSC President

Letter from the EAC President

Dear Duke Engineering Alumni:

The year of 2020 was, of course, in almost every way, not what any of us imagined it would be. Despite the many challenges, I am incredibly proud of the work of our Engineering Alumni Council to adapt and press forward with meaningful programs to support our alumni, our current students and our school.

Our mentoring program has continued to grow, reaching over 600 alumni and students this year, making it one of the largest of its kind across any school or unit at Duke. Most importantly, our alumni continue to show overwhelming commitment to connecting with and supporting our students during this period, which is incredibly difficult for so many. Even the most simple conversations can be immensely impactful right now. I cannot say thank you enough to all the alumni who have given their time.

Some of our most successful programs, such as TAPA Talks and our Resume Review/Mock Interview sessions, have moved to an online platform and been incredibly well received. Thank you to everyone who participated in these programs, whether as a speaker, an interviewer or just behind the scenes helping make it happen.


“Our alumni continue to show overwhelming commitment to connecting with and supporting our students during this period, which is incredibly difficult for so many. Even the most simple conversations can be immensely impactful right now. I cannot say thank you enough to all the alumni who have given their time.”

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021 and beyond, and Duke Engineering is no exception. We welcome the opening of the beautiful new Wilkinson Building that greatly expands the school’s research and teaching capabilities, as well as an impressive new Quantum Computing Center in the Chesterfield Building in downtown Durham. You will also soon hear more about Pratt’s 2039 Plan, a distinctly Duke vision for the future of the school, which includes a focus on growing and developing alumni engagement as one of its core principles. And of course, last but not least, we welcome a new EAC President, Tracy Nickelsburg E’88, P’22. Tracy has been a member of the council since 2013 and an integral member of our executive committee since 2018. I cannot wait to see all the great things the EAC accomplishes under her leadership in the coming years.

Those of you who know me know that I might occasionally geek out on data and might occasionally (obsessively) listen to Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics Podcast. In the last year, he has closed his podcasts with a slightly different message, which I will borrow here:

Take care of yourselves, and if you can, someone else too.

Will Senner, E'06,MEM'06
President, Engineering Alumni Council

Alumni & Development News

Building Pratt Stronger

The Wilkinson Building

The Wilkinson Building: Reimagining Engineering Education

When students returned to campus in January 2021, they were welcomed with 150,000 square feet worth of new and exciting opportunities

A zoom screen with five speakers

Uplifting, Educating and Listening: It’s Not Over

“Engineering While Black” creates a series of important conversations produced by ESG, NSBE, SWE, and SHPE

Adapting to a Year Like No Other

People crowd around desks working on face shields, which are piled up in a row in the corner

Innovation Amidst a Pandemic

A glimpse into Duke’s COVID-19 Engineering Response Team

A table top with a bunch of equipment and paper

Remote Engineering During a Pandemic

Pratt students and classes adapt to virtual learning

A hanging bridge over a river in a mountainous jungle area

Pratt Student Organizations: Resilience During COVID-19

Despite the pandemic, Pratt student organizations find ways to continue to provide enriching experiences to its members

A black and white logo of a bird with wings spread

Saving the Summer Internship

Phoenix Project provides critical summer internships for students during the pandemic

Research Reports

Three people with VR headsets on

Revolutionizing Neurosurgical Planning With the Use of Holograms

Cameron McIntyre brings to Duke a long history of translating innovations in Deep Brain Stimulation into commercial medical devices

A woman standing in a laboratory

Designing the Future of Medical Technologies

Xiaoyue Ni is pushing her field into the future using smart materials and wearable devices

A wind tunnel with a fan blade inside

Keeping Airplanes, Rockets and Helicopters in the Sky

Aeroelasticity at Duke University has grown and thrived for more than three decades

The Duke Engineering Difference

A group of people standing around colorful blocks on a table

Engineering Entrepreneurship: An Engine for Innovation

Duke Engineering’s new “EngEn” initiative serves as a catalyst for the creation of high-impact products and cutting-edge technology

A light bulb made out of many differently colored circles

An Exploration of the Pratt IDEAS Program

Duke Engineering’s IDEAS Program provides students a path for creating their own unique major