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Duke Engineering Through the Years


  • Courses in civil and mining engineering are first offered at Trinity College, which would later become Duke University.


  • In the Indenture of Trust establishing Duke University, James B. Duke names an engineering school as one of the components he wished to eventually be included in the new university.


  • Civil Engineering (CE) and Electrical Engineering (EE) departments are established at Duke University.
  • Classrooms and labs are located in the Asbury and Bivins building on East Campus, and engineering students live in Southgate Hall (a.k.a "The Shack").


  • Duke instates a Bachelor of Science degree for engineers. It requires 138 semester hours (compared to 126 for the BA degree).


  • Annual "Engineers' Show" becomes a popular event at Duke and in the Durham community. Featuring student-organized displays of technological marvels such as television, manmade lighting, a working model of a water filtration plant and a Mystifier revealing people's exact height and weight.
  • It attracts thousands of visitors a year over the next few decades.


  • Mechanical Engineering (ME) department is established.


  • Departments of CE, EE, and ME are administratively grouped to form the Division of Engineering.


  • Duke University trustees authorize the creation of a College of Engineering. It becomes the third undergraduate college at the young university, joining Trinity College and the Woman’s College.
  • William H. Hall becomes the first dean of engineering.
  • Five new engineering professors come on board, nearly doubling the size of the faculty to a total of 12.


  • Engineering Student Government Society publishes the first issue of Duke Engineer (renamed DukEngineer in 1941). The mimeographed magazine was dedicated to the happenings in Duke's engineering departments, alumni news and student society activities. DukEngineer is student-run and published yearly to this day. View the digital archive >


  • The College of Engineering holds its first commencement exercises early, on April 12, sending its first group of graduates “into a variety of wartime services.”


  • The first women graduate from the College of Engineering: Muriel Theodorsen Williams (EE) and Marie Foote Reel (EE).


  • Engineers' Wives Club is founded to provide social and volunteer opportunities for spouses of engineering undergraduates.
  • Male engineering students are relocated to West Campus.


  • College of Engineering moves to West Campus and begins classes in the new Engineering Building (“Old Red”), now called Hudson Hall.


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


  • Walter J. Seeley becomes dean.


  • The College of Engineering begins offering work leading to the Master of Science degree in all three fields. They are the first MS degrees offered at Duke.


  • Doctor of Philosophy degree first offered in Electrical Engineering. Duke is the first private institution in the Southeast to offer such a program.


  • James L. Meriam becomes dean.
  • Gene Kendall becomes the first black undergraduate engineering student and one of the first five undergraduates to integrate Duke.


  • Doctor of Philosophy first offered in Civil Engineering.


  • Duke renames the College of Engineering as 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.”


  • Division of Biomedical Engineering (BME) is founded by Duke’s Engineering and Medical Schools “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,” according to the Durham Herald-Sun.


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


  • George W. Pearsall becomes dean. He serves in the position twice, from 1969-74 and again from 1982-83.
  • BSCE, BSEE and BSME degrees changed to BSE degrees.


  • Biomedical Engineering division becomes a department. The following year, Duke becomes the first to have an accredited undergraduate major in BME.


  • Engineering Annex Building opens at the rear of the 1948 Engineering Building.


  • Aleksandar S. Vesic becomes dean.
  • Department of Mechanical Engineering becomes the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS).


  • Fredrick "Fritz" Thurstone, one of the founders of Duke's biomedical engineering department, and graduate student Olaf von Ramm lay the foundation for the phased-array imaging system that revolutionizes cardiac imaging and paves the way for real-time ultrasound imaging in clinical practice.


  • Egg Drop


  • Department of Civil Engineering becomes the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).


  • Earl H. Dowell becomes dean.


  • The Nello L. Teer Library Building opens. The $1.5 million gift from the Teer family toward the $4.35 million facility was the largest single gift from a Durham family since James B. Duke founded the University in 1924.
  • Thomas Lord gives $40 million to create the Lord Foundation of North Carolina at Duke Engineering to promote cross-disciplinary research, support excellence in teaching and foster hands-on project experiences for students, both in and out of the classroom.


  • Henry Petroski (CEE) publishes To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, the first of nearly 20 popular and critically acclaimed books that make his reputation as "America's poet laureate of technology."


  • CEE department establishes an architectural engineering certificate program for undergraduates.
  • Duke’s 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 (BME) invent the first real-time 3-D ultrasonic scanner (4-D). It is now used worldwide in multiple specialties.


  • Duke Engineering launches its National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, offering summer experiences in engineering to students from across the United States. In 2002, an innovative REU for increasing diversity is created to enhance opportunities for underrepresented minorities, women, and students with disabilities. Duke Engineering's REU program has been used by the NSF as a model for others in the years since.


  • 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 previous methods, opening up new possibilities for understanding and controlling such flows. Their insights are widely used in current airframe and turbine designs for power plants, airplanes and windmills.
  • Ray Ideker with Patrick Wolf and William Smith (BME) optimize biphasic waveforms for defibrillation of the heart.


  • Duke engineering distinguished alumnus and adjunct professor Blake Wilson develops the continuous interleaved sampling (CIS) processing strategy for cochlear implants, dramatically improving how implanted patients perceieve speech.
  • BME's Howard Clark and Duke cardiologist Richard Stack patent the first bio-absorbable stent.


  • Duke’s original engineering building (“Old Red”) is named Hudson Hall to honor Fitzgerald S. "Jerry" Hudson E'46, the first engineering graduate to be named chair of the Duke University Board of Trustees.


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


  • The Department of Electrical Engineering becomes the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).


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


  • Master of Engineering Management program established. It grows from an initial 12 students to nearly 300 by 2014.


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


  • Kristina M. Johnson becomes the first female dean of engineering at Duke.
  • Duke's engineering school is named the Edmund T. Pratt Jr. School of Engineering in honor of Edmund T. Pratt Jr. E'47, who gave Duke University $35 million to endow the school.
  • 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 center for the study of advanced photonics (now known as the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics) is established with a $25 million gift by Michael J. Fitzpatrick T'70 and Patty Wyngaarden Fitzpatrick W'69.


  • Pratt Undergraduate Fellows Program is 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.


  • 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.


  • The 322,000-square-foot Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences opens. Duke's Board of Trustees approves naming the facility the Fitzpatrick Center (FCIEMAS) 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.
  • 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 today has chapters at 30 engineering schools in six countries.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Robert L. Clark becomes dean.
  • The Home Depot 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.


  • Thomas C. Katsouleas becomes dean.
  • The DUhatch student business incubator opens in the Teer Building.
  • Pratt is chosen to lead a $14.4-million federal project to explore the potential ecological hazards of nanoparticles, Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). The National Science Foundation 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.


  • 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 partners with the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, and the University of Liege in Belgium to offer a new international master’s program in turbomachinery aeromechanics dubbed THRUST.
  • Pratt launches its first online-based degree program, the Distributed Master of Engineering Management Program.


  • Duke 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.



  • Jeffrey N. Vinik E'81 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.



  • 75th anniversary of Duke’s engineering school.


  • 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 Barack 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.
  • George A. Truskey becomes interim dean.


  • 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).
  • Ravi V. Bellamkonda becomes dean.


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


  • 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 break a Guinness World Record for the most fuel-efficient vehicle in history.


  • 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.


  • The 150,000-square-foot Wilkinson Building opens in November 2020, with first classes held in January 2021. The building is named in honor of longtime supporters Jerry C. (E'67) and Beverly A. Wilkinson and their family.


  • Jeffrey T. Glass becomes interim dean.