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By Lynne Robinson
Sowing the Seeds of Scientific Discovery: A Celebration of David Pope, His Legacy, and Influence|
Posted on: 9/1/2010 12:00:00 AM... Making waves in the surfboard industry is what Edison Conner fully intends to do with an advanced materials technology that he has been developing since an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). An avid surfer for most of his life, Conner, like many in the sport, was frustrated with the brittleness of standard boards built around a plastic foam core. Then, while taking an introductory materials science class with David Pope, professor and undergraduate chair of Penn’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department, Conner realized that his desire for a better board could potentially transform into a viable business opportunity. “The more I researched, the more convinced I was that I could leverage materials technologies to make a superior product,” he recalled. “The seed was planted in Dr. Pope’s class.”
Pope, according to Conner, was instrumental in enabling him to grow and develop his dream “to create the world’s highest-performance surfboard” past the idea stage into a clearly articulated hypothesis for his senior thesis—and the basis for his current technology. “He helped me think through certain fundamental factors that affect how sports equipment performs,” Conner said. “This process ultimately led to a decision to replace the traditional plastic foam core with one made of precision-machined aluminum honeycomb. By helping me lay a solid foundation for my research and development project, he pointed me toward success and has continued to support me in my efforts every step of the way.”
Now president of Varial Surfing Technologies, Conner will be giving a talk on his surfboard solution at the David Pope Honorary Symposium on Fundamentals of Deformation and Fracture of Advanced Metals, taking place at the TMS 2011 Annual Meeting, February 27-March 3. “Dr. Pope is a remarkable man who has been a wonderful mentor to me. I am honored to be part of this celebration of his career” said Conner.
Conner’s deep regard for Dr. Pope is echoed by an array of MSE scientists and engineers who will also be presenting at the symposium.
“Putting Theorists on the Realistic Path”
“David certainly belongs to a small number of materials scientists who had a seminal and lasting impact on our understanding of mechanical behavior of various metallic materials,” said Vasek Vitek, a fellow professor at Penn and long-time collaborator of Pope’s. “Our collaboration was characterized by a close link between experiment and theory. David, being an excellent experimentalist, put us theorists on the realistic path. He both initiated theoretical analyses needed to explain or interpret experimental observations and developed experiments to prove or disprove theories. Such a link between experiments and theory develops rarely and David was unique in his full understanding of the theory and ability to develop a truly relevant experimental program.”
Vitek added that one of the most widely known outcomes of his work with Pope is the Paidar, Pope, and Vitek (PPV) model of dislocation behavior in Ni3Al (V. Paidar, D.P. Pope and V. Vitek, Acta Metall., 32 (1984) p. 435), “referred to in the literature as a classical study of very complex anomalous behavior of the alloy which is the principal constituent of superalloys employed in all aircraft engines.” In addition to his efforts with Vitek, Pope made some of the first dislocation velocity measurements in hexagonal close packed metals and clarified the role of trace elements on creep embrittlement, among other discoveries.
Noting that traditional structural materials require continued research and development, particularly in the energy sector, Pope said, “I believe the most exciting possibilities for research in the near future come from the intersection between new and traditional research areas—nanomaterials and structural materials or computational analysis and materials deformation and fracture, as examples.”
As a scientist, Vitek said, “I admire David's sharp identification of really important contributions in the very complex and often rather clouded field of mechanical properties of materials, as well as his ability to formulate and carry out seminal experiments.” Much of Pope’s greatest work, however, is not confined to the laboratory, Vitek continued: “He has also contributed immensely to the field by teaching the most introductory courses and attracting students—who really love him—to materials science. Before meeting David, many of them did not even know that this field of study and research existed.”
Reaching Beyond Classroom Walls
According to Easo George, distinguished research and development staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), symposium organizer, and a former graduate student of Pope’s, it was how his professor presented concepts as much as what he covered that made a lasting impression. “In his classes, Dave had an uncanny ability to explain scientific concepts using everyday examples that made the material coherent and easy to understand, without sacrificing rigor, and it stayed with us permanently,” he said. “A vivid recollection I have is his use of the texture of ice cream—which he described as a two-phase mixture of ice crystals and cholesterol—to bring to life Ostwald ripening in the freezer.”
Pope also provided George guidance and support as his Ph.D. thesis advisor—a role that did not necessarily end when he completed his studies at Penn. “Dave cares deeply about his students’ careers,” said George. “I soon realized that my first job after leaving Penn was a terrible mistake and I was miserable. When Dave found out, he contacted a colleague at ORNL and persuaded him to hire me. His instincts in this matter were impeccable as my subsequent years at ORNL have been some of my happiest and most satisfying. So, in large measure, I owe my career to that initial intervention by Dave.”
(Click on images to enlarge.) David Pope visits with students during the Senior Banquet at Penn.
Pope and his wife, Myrna, (lower left) enjoy welcoming his undergraduate teaching assistants to their home for an evening of wine tasting.
Pope’s interest in and support of young scientists has extended far beyond the walls of Penn, according to K. Sharvan Kumar, now a professor at Brown University who first met Pope at a TMS annual meeting about five years after completing his Ph.D. “He was very easy to talk to and encouraging of my work. Many times over the years, I have called Dave for advice on many career-related matters and have treasured his friendship,” Kumar said. “For all his accomplishments, he has always made himself available to many junior scientists and students.”
“Everyone agrees Dr. Pope has had a great influence in this field with his pioneering and distinguished works,” said Yoshisato Kimura, associate professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology. “But, I think his greater influence may be in his interactions with young generations of scientists, not only his own students, but also visiting researchers, like me, and people who just meet him at a conference.
“Every time Dr. Pope has visited my research group, or I have visited him at Penn, he always spends precious time talking with each of my students, one by one without my presence, even if it takes a very long time,” Kimura continued. “Although the discussion is basically about research that the student is doing, Dr. Pope never restricts the topics and tries to find subjects that interest the students most. I think it is his friendly, supportive personality and great curiosity for things outside his profession that I admire most about him.”
Admitting to being “a little embarrassed by the attention”, Pope said he is nonetheless delighted at the prospect of seeing many colleagues that he has touched—personally and scientifically—at his honorary symposium in February. “I have truly enjoyed, even cherished, my professional friends from all around the world, and am flattered that they are willing to honor me like this,” he said.
“It is through the relationships with our colleagues that we learn new information and by the inevitable give and take, we discover ways to formulate solutions to the problem,” Pope continued. “I didn't understand this when I first started my career and was delighted to discover this truth.”
Visit the TMS 2011 Annual Meeting website for additional information on the David Pope honorary symposium, as well as other programming, events, and networking opportunities.
Lynne Robinson is a news and feature writer with TMS.
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