Thornton inducted as L.H. and F.E. Van Vlack Professor of MSE (Photos/video)

Thornton inducted as L.H. and F.E. Van Vlack Professor of MSE (Photos/video)

Katsuyo Thornton was inducted on May 16 as the fourth L.H. and F.E. Van Vlack Professor of Materials Science & Engineering.

On May 16, Katsuyo Thornton was inducted as the L.H. and F.E. Van Vlack Professor of Materials Science & Engineering in a special ceremony/lecture in the Beyster Building. 

“Endowed professorships are among the highest honors presented by the College of Engineering,” said Dean Alec Gallimore in his opening remarks. “They help attract, reward and retain outstanding faculty members. They acknowledge faculty members’ research, teaching and service.”

Thornton’s first Ph.D. student, Hui-Chia Yu, talked about how Thornton’s perfectionistic tendencies continues to influence him in his current position as assistant professor at Michigan State. “Her insistence on high quality and her work ethic greatly affected me in my own research and my career,” Yu said.

MSE Chair Amit Misra followed, highlighting the wide influence Thornton has had as a pioneer in computational materials science: “Katsuyo has championed the use of computational methods which has brought a completely new dimension in the field of materials science and engineering that gives a lot more capability and power in terms of what our field can do and how we can make an impact in future technologies that improve quality of life,” Misra said, adding how her group’s codes are currently being used in a variety of federally-funded national research centers across the U.S. 

“All these areas - from electrochemical energy storage to nuclear materials to lightweight metals for transportation - show the breadth and depth of the impact she has made,” Misra said.

Thornton then presented her lecture, “Predicting the Future: Art and Science of Computational Materials Science at the Microstructural Scale,” which she concluded with her own confident prediction: that in the next 10 years, 1) computational codes will play a major role in research and development in nearly all industries, 2) experiments and simulations will be integrated in real time, allowing decision-making based on materials science, and 3) software tools will be available and will be utilized in materials engineering in all industries.

“This is my vision and I’m going to try to make happen,” she said.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Dean Gallimore presented Thornton with a personally engraved medal (which she is to wear at all official university events, such as graduation), and unveiled her professorship chair before inviting her to take an official first seat. Guests then mingled and congratulated Thornton at a reception immediately following in Tishman Hall.

Click here to view photo gallery.

Click here to watch a video of the event.


Professor Larry Van Vlack - teacher, author, MSE icon

The L.H. and F.E. Van Vlack Professor of Materials Science & Engineering was established in 1998, in honor of Professor Larry Van Vlack and his wife, Frances. Professor Van Vlack joined Michigan Engineering in 1953, serving as associate professor, professor, and chairman of the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering (1967-1970). He was instrumental in establishing what would eventually become the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, as well as the first U.S. graduate program in materials engineering.

Van Vlack authored 12 books, including the iconic textbook Elements of Materials Science and Engineering, which, through its more than 25 foreign editions and translations, has introduced millions of students worldwide to the discipline of materials science and engineering.

Thornton is the fourth Van Vlack Professor of Materials Science & Engineering. The first was faculty emeritus Ron Gibala (1998-2004), followed by Tresa Pollock, now a professor at UC-Santa Barbara (2005-2010), and then John Halloran (2013-2017), who retired from the faculty this past December. Both Gibala and Halloran attended Thornton’s professorship event. Other special guests included Bruce Van Vlack (Goodrich, Mich.) and Laura Van Vlack-Ailes (Portage, Mich.), the son and daughter of Larry and Frances Van Vlack.