Earl Dowell Awarded J.S. Rao Medal in Vibration Engineering

1/31/24 Pratt School of Engineering

Recently awarded the J.S. Rao Medal for his contributions in vibration engineering, the Duke MEMS faculty member has spent decades inspiring new engineers in the field of aeroelasticity

Earl Dowell Awarded J.S. Rao Medal in Vibration Engineering

Dowell was awarded the J.S. Rao Medal in Vibration Engineering at the 18ᵗʰ International Conference on Vibration Engineering & Technology of Machinery in December 2023.

The award committee called his book A Modern Course in Aeroelasticity “amazing” and applauded his contributions to engineering that span a storied career.

About Earl Dowell

Dowell specializes in aeroelasticity, exploring the dynamic interaction between aerodynamic flows and elastic structures.

His research spans acoustics, nonlinear dynamics, and unsteady aerodynamics, with notable contributions including the first definitive research monograph on the aeroelasticity of plates and shell, the first derivation of nonlinear equations for helicopter rotor blades, and the construction of reduced order models to produce compact yet accurate descriptions of complex fluid and structural systems.

Earl Dowell, professor and former dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, is shown with an image of the F-15. He has been involved in research on the fighter jet

Actively engaged in teaching, he offers courses on dynamics and aeroelasticity to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Dowell’s work is exemplified in videos showcasing experimental aeroelastic models undergoing flutter, gust response and limit cycle oscillations in the Duke Wind Tunnel. An affiliate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, he enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration.

His advice to young engineers in similar fields is to “build a balanced research portfolio with both simpler and more challenging goals.”

And he has always followed his mother’s advice to work with people smarter than you are in some important respect. Starting with smaller, more manageable problems that sponsors will understand can aid in securing funding. 

“But ultimately you want to work toward tackling some really hard problems that sponsors may not yet fully appreciate,” Dowell explained.

When he’s not pouring over complex issues in research, Dowell enjoys swimming (but only outdoors in the summer) and tennis, though he favors some sports more than others.

“You know, I tried playing pickleball the other day and the ball bounced funny,” he said. “I think I will concentrate on tennis.”

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