dr-chad-duty-2010-P01216ORNL engineer Dr. Chad Duty talks about how engineers can drive a prosperous American future and change the world


What’s your favorite part of your work?

The most exciting part of engineering is the opportunity to apply scientific principles to the world around us. Although knowledge is great, I’m more interested in what we can do with that knowledge to make someone’s life better. I’m blessed to work with a creative group of engineers who are pushing the boundaries to invent and innovate on numerous fronts – from the bacterial production of complex nanoparticles to large-scale additive manufacturing. Honestly, it’s a blast to come to work every day!

How do you view the “3C’s” of engineering, the challenges of capacity, capability and competitiveness?

Our country has some significant challenges ahead in engineering and manufacturing. There is likely to be a shortage of well-trained engineers in the marketplace over the next few decades and we need to take immediate steps to reverse that trend. In addition, the pace of innovation is accelerating so dramatically, it’s critical that we not only teach students basic principles, but also how to adapt quickly to new information and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. Fortunately, the U.S. has some of the most innovative and creative students in the world, so there is still hope that we may not only survive but flourish in this new environment.

What drew you to Oak Ridge National Laboratory?

Working at a national laboratory offers access to capabilities and resources that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. And the true value of a place like ORNL far exceeds the capital investment in specific machines or infrastructure, but lies in the people who have dedicated their lives to the advancement of a specific field. ORNL’s core competencies of material science, neutron characterization, and supercomputing align with my career focus in advanced manufacturing and offer the opportunity for a bright future in this area.

How can we make engineering careers more appealing for college students?

The key to attracting more students to engineering disciplines is to inspire them at a young age with the potential impact of applied science and math. ORNL has been very involved with the FIRST Robotics Competition for high school students over the last several years. To achieve the objectives of their competition, whether it’s to sink a 20-foot jump shot or toss a disc through a goal, students have to apply engineering principles. But at that point, they’re not simply doing boring math drills – they’re trying to win the game! Although they may not fully grasp the underlying theories, the relevance of engineering to their world at that moment is undeniable.

If you could work in any other engineering center, where would it be and why?

Given the opportunity, I’d like to work with a leading biomedical research institution. Since my undergraduate days, I’ve been interested in how mechanical engineering can address physiological challenges through biomechanics applications. My current research in additive manufacturing would likely offer the opportunity for significant advancements in medical device designs, such as prosthetics. In this case, I can imagine the real world impact of an engineering success would be immediate and transparent, which would be very rewarding on a personal and professional level.