UM Engineering Science Ph.D. Continues Research at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Mamun Miah studying earthquake hazard simulations, risk assessments

Mamun Miah, a UM chemical engineering graduate, is a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Submitted photo

From the suburbs of his native Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the Energy Geosciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, Mamun Miah has been on an incredible journey. And the faculty, courses and programs of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering have played an important role in his career path.

“During my undergraduate study, I felt the need to further my technical as well as communicative skills, which made me think of coming to the USA,” Miah said. “Following that dream, I applied and got accepted into the civil engineering programs at several U.S. universities. Ole Miss has a good engineering program and offered me financial assistance, which helped me decide to attend Ole Miss eventually.”

After earning his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2009, Miah entered UM.

“Ole Miss is a great school, not only for its academic curriculum but also for its sincere engagement in students’ overall well-being,” he said. “Some courses that shaped my career include Finite Element Analysis for Structures provided by Dr. Christopher Mullen, Continuum Mechanics by Dr. Ahmed Al-Ostaz, Shear Strength of Soil by Dr. Chung Song, Groundwater Modeling by Dr. Robert Holt and Engineering Analysis by Dr. Wei-Yen Chen. Ole Miss Engineering also has some career fair and diversity inclusion programs, which helped me further my career by building connections and communications beyond the school.”

Miah’s former UM engineering professors have fond memories of him.

“A hardworking student, Mamun showed great interest to learn new technologies and accept challenging research topics,” said Waheed Uddin, a professor of civil engineering who directed Miah’s thesis. “His M.S. thesis research involved traditional two-dimensional and innovative three-dimensional geospatial analysis for floodplain mapping and aviation infrastructure visualization. I am glad that he successfully pursued and completed his doctoral degree.”

“In academic and technical matters, he transitioned almost seamlessly from a transportation-oriented master thesis to a structural engineering-related research project to a geophysics-based dissertation,” said Christopher Mullen, professor of civil engineering and Miah’s dissertation director. “Mamun has demonstrated both self-motivation and talent in applying programming-based computer modeling to numerical simulations of some very complex problems in engineering science. It has been a pleasure to see him develop from a graduate student unsure of his direction in life to a highly skilled, self-assured postdoctoral researcher at one of the world’s most respected government research laboratories.”

Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering, said Miah was an outstanding graduate student during his time at Ole Miss.

“Besides working on his research, he was also nicely engaged in teaching and helping CE faculty in a number of courses,” he said. “Above all, Mamun is one of those exceptional doctoral students who was able to choose his Ph.D. research topic and get it funded by an external sponsor. We are very proud of him and his achievements. I wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”

It was at a UM career fair where Miah connected with the Berkeley Lab.

“I attended a National Lab day in 2012, which was held at The Inn at Ole Miss,” Miah said. “By talking and engaging in discussions with the scientists from across the nation, I eventually availed an internship at the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2013. After a successful internship, I wrote a grant proposal to LBNL for my Ph.D. thesis, which they approved.”

At Berkeley, Miah found a very sound research resource on his thesis topic. He also kept attending science and engineering seminars provided by some of the world’s most renowned scientists and professors.

“I think this internship opportunity had a tremendous effect on my career success,” he said.

Miah received his master’s in engineering science in 2010 and Ph.D. in the same field in 2016, both from Ole Miss. He then became a postdoctoral fellow at the Energy Geosciences Division at LBNL.

“I am working on exascale-level computing for regional-scale earthquake hazard simulations and risk assessments in the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said. “I am also working on earthquake soil-structure interaction for safety of nuclear power plants managed by (the) U.S. Department of Energy.”

Miah said he also appreciated the instruction he received at Bangladesh University.

“Almost all the faculty members have a very solid understanding as well as teaching capability for the comprehensive civil engineering program,” he said. “Their teaching style along with relevant learning materials and homework problems made the courses really interesting to learn and apply for the practical engineering purpose. I owe them a lot for my today’s career.”

For more about Mamun Miah and his work at LBNL, visit

https://eesa.lbl.gov/meet-postdoc-mamun-miah/

By Edwin Smith

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Inoka Widanagamage Joins Geological Engineering

Newest assistant professor brings teaching excellence, research expertise to department

Inoka Widanagamage conducting geological research in the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Submitted photo

Inoka Widanagamage has been fascinated by geology as long as she can remember and wanted to share her fascination with others interested in the subject. As the newest faculty member in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, she is fulfilling her passion by teaching class and conducting research.

“I found this position through the higher education website,” Widanagamage said. “Because of my interest of teaching geology, I thought that this position is a good fit for my interest and expertise. So I decided to apply.”

Widanagamage’s educational background extends from pure geology (e.g., Precambrian geology, structural geology, mineralogy, petrology, high-temperature geochemistry) to applied geology (e.g., environmental geochemistry, low-temperature geochemistry). She has the ability to teach courses in a wide spectrum.

“I teach Earth Dynamics, Environmental Geology, Economic Geology, Geology and Geological Engineering seminar, Physical Geology, Historical Geology and co-teach Mineralogy and Petrology,” she said. “During the summer, I also teach a geological field camp in Ada, Oklahoma. I enjoy sharing my teaching and research experiences with students in a classroom setting to develop their theoretical and practical knowledge.”

Her research interests are stable isotope geochemistry, environmental mineralogy, structural geology and tectonics.

“I mainly focus on the trace metal (stable isotope) distribution in biogeochemical cycles,” Widanagamage said. “I approach my research goals via three major components: studying the natural environment, designing and performing laboratory experiments, and modeling.”

Widanagamage said her short-term plan is to establish a strong teaching profile by teaching a variety of geology courses according to the departmental requirements. Her long-term plan is to develop new upper-level courses related to her research background.

“Also as a long-term plan, I expect to work with senior undergraduate geology students to continue my research projects that I initiated during my tenure as a postdoctoral associate in Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,” she said. “I am also working on [a] few external grant proposals, seeking potential collaborations within, as well as outside, of our department.”

Widanagamage is a welcome addition to the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor.

“She has infectious enthusiasm for teaching, both in the classroom and getting students out into the field,” he said. “We are excited that her position will be reclassified in 2018 as an instructional assistant professor. This will allow us to take greater advantage of her research expertise in isotopes and geochemistry, expanding her impact with Honors College classes, assisting with undergraduate research and teaching graduate-level classes.”

Widanagamage received both the Best Teaching Assistant Award and the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award in the Department of Geology at Kent State University in 2014. She was also nominated for a University Fellowship Award there the previous year and completed an e-Learning training course with honors at UM.

“These are among my most gratifying professional achievements thus far,” Widanagamage said.

She is married to Waruna Weerasinghe, a mechanical engineering student at the university. The couple has one son, Senidu Weerasinghe. Widanagamage said she enjoys spending time with her family and, of course, exploring the geology of the earth.

By Edwin Smith

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Joe Cerny Enters New Chapter in Life

Successful chemical engineering alumnus retires after a half-century in nuclear science

Joseph ‘Joe’ Cerny, a 1957 UM chemical engineering alumnus, recently retired after a prestigious half-century career at the University of California at Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. Submitted photo

After more than half a century of research and leadership at Berkeley Lab and the University of California at Berkeley, University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumnus Joseph Cerny (ChE 57) has retired.

The former head of the Nuclear Science Division and associate laboratory director at Berkeley Lab, professor of chemistry and former chemistry department chair, graduate division dean, provost and vice chancellor for research, Cerny left with another singular honor to add to a long list: the Berkeley Citation, awarded to those “whose attainments significantly exceed the standards of excellence in their fields” and whose contributions are “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Cerny reflected upon how he came to Ole Miss.

“Even though my parents were from Illinois and Kansas, my father was offered a faculty position in the Ole Miss business school,” Cerny said. “He accepted the job and we moved to Oxford in 1946, where I entered the sixth grade.”

As he finished high school, Cerny decided that he wanted to become a chemical engineer. That decision is what prompted him to enter the university’s School of Engineering.

“I had many classes with Frank Anderson, who was a great teacher,” Cerny said. “Other professors I remember as extremely demanding were C.N. Jones and Samuel Clark.”

Born at the height of the Great Depression, Cerny got his bachelor’s degree from UM with support from the ROTC program. During 1957-58, he attended the University of Manchester in England on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Cerny earned his doctorate in nuclear chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1961 and immediately started work as an assistant professor at the university, simultaneously joining the Nuclear Science Division (then the Nuclear Chemistry Division) at Berkeley Lab (then the Radiation Laboratory, or Rad Lab).

Shortly after the East German government began building the Berlin Wall, Cerny was on active duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. For most of the next 16 months, he was in New Jersey evaluating techniques for studying explosive detonations.

Once back at Berkeley, Cerny wasted no time catching up with nuclear science.

“Russian theorists had suggested some interesting ideas about experiments that could be done to study light nuclei very far from stability,” Cerny said. These were isotopes of elements like carbon whose nuclei had more protons than neutrons; most carbon is stable carbon-12, with six protons and six neutrons.

“For example, we wanted to know the lightest carbon nucleus that could hold together on the order of a hundred milliseconds.”

Cerny had a stellar new instrument to work with. His graduate work had been done with Ernest Lawrence’s 60-inch cyclotron, still operating on campus, but upon his return from the Army in 1963, the Rad Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron was up and running. It would be pivotal in Cerny’s research throughout his career.

Using state-of-the-art detectors and electronics developed by Fred Goulding and Don Landis at the lab, Cerny found the answer to the carbon stability question – carbon-9, with six protons and three neutrons, has a half-life of 126 thousandths of a second, whereas the lighter carbon-8 lasts only about 100 septillionths of a second – “a huge dividing line,” he said.

Cerny continued experiments on very proton-rich nuclei while on sabbatical at Oxford University in 1969-70, using a heavy-ion cyclotron at the Harwell Laboratory. He completed these studies at the 88-Inch. The result was the discovery of a new radioactive decay mode, direct proton radioactivity – the first mode of single-step radioactive transmutation to be discovered since alpha decay, beta decay and spontaneous fission.

Cerny received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Memorial Award of the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the U.S. Department of Energy) in 1974, for his “discovery of proton emission as a mode of radioactive decay, for investigation of the limits of nuclear stability of a number of light elements” – and, significantly – “for ingenious instruments that made these discoveries possible.”

In 1975, Cerny became chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry. One of his major acts was a first for the department: the appointment of a woman, Judith P. Klinman, as a tenured associate professor of bioorganic and biophysical chemistry. In 1979, Cerny was appointed head of the Nuclear Science Division and an associate lab director at Berkeley Lab, a time when the lab was operating three national accelerator facilities: the 88-Inch Cyclotron, SuperHilac and Bevalac, with a distinct taste for heavy-ion physics.

Cerny and his group continued research on radioactive decay modes, adding another first: beta-delayed two-proton emission, which had been predicted by Russian theorist V. Gol’danskii. Among other honors, Cerny received the American Chemical Society’s Award in Nuclear Chemistry for work leading to the discovery of “two new modes of radioactive decay: proton emission and beta-delayed two-proton emission.”

In 1985, Cerny was appointed dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division, serving in that post until 2000. From 1986 to 1994, he also was provost for research, and from 1994 to 2000 was the university’s vice chancellor for research. And in 1990, Cerny additionally became a nuclear physicist, when the University of Jyväskylä in Finland awarded him an honorary doctorate in physics.

At a festschrift on his 60th birthday in 1996, Cerny presented a proposal for equipping the 88-Inch Cyclotron to handle radioactive beams of light ions. Radioactive isotopes of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen would be made by the cyclotron of the Berkeley Isotope Facility in Building 56, part of the imaging facilities of the Life Sciences Division. The radioactive ions would be transported 350 feet through a capillary down the steep slope of Blackberry Canyon to the 88-Inch.

Dubbed BEARS, for Berkeley Experiments with Accelerated Radioactive Species, the transport system was in operation just three years later, enabling the 88-Inch Cyclotron to produce a world record beam of radioactive carbon-11. That isotope’s 20-minute half-life was easily long enough, once it was created, to mix it with oxygen to make carbon dioxide and send the gas through the pipeline to the 88-Inch, where it was trapped and fed into an ion source at the cyclotron.

Cerny’s research, teaching and service work for DOE, NSF and the UC system are continuing from his base in Berkeley, where he and his family are longtime residents. It’s not unlikely that Cerny will be seen around the 88-Inch, a mainstay of his work since his Berkeley beginnings, for many days to come.

Cerny was married to the late Susan Cerny. He is the father of two sons: Keith, who is the general director of the Dallas (Texas) Opera Company, and Mark, a senior video game consultant with Sony Entertainment.

Cerny’s favorite leisure activities include hiking and worldwide travel.

Alumnus Establishes Scholarship Fund for Mechanical Engineering

Mike Nash creates endowment to memorialize former department chair James R. MacDonald

Mechanical engineering alumnus Mike Nash of Maryland made the initial donation to establish the James R. MacDonald Scholarship Fund. Submitted photo

As an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the University of Mississippi, Jonathon M. “Mike” Nash greatly admired and appreciated James R. MacDonald, then chair and professor of the department.

Recently, Nash established the Dr. James R. MacDonald Scholarship Fund at his alma mater as a lasting tribute to his mentor and lifelong friend.

“Much of the valuable guidance I received was based on his industrial experience,” said Nash, who lives in Frederick, Maryland. “Dr. MacDonald would often emphasize that real-world engineering challenges were rarely solved by one person.

“At the end of the day, your professional knowledge and contributions would only be as effective as your ability to coordinate with others.”

Recipients will be full-time students majoring in mechanical engineering as selected by the School of Engineering Scholarship Committee.

“I express my great appreciation to Dr. Nash for setting up this scholarship to commemorate one of the school’s legendary professors and former mechanical engineering department chair, Dr. James MacDonald,” said Alex Cheng, UM engineering dean. “The scholarship will assists students to meet their financial need and to fulfill their education goals.”

Nash earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering science from Ole Miss. With more than 40 years’ experience in the aerospace industry, he manages an independent consulting company that provides aviation market analysis and strategic business support for international clients.

Administrators in the Department of Mechanical Engineering expressed appreciation for Nash’s benevolence in honor of MacDonald.

“Dr. MacDonald was instrumental for setting up all undergraduate laboratories initially,” said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor. “It is nostalgic to realize how the efforts initiated by Dr. MacDonald as chair during 1957-1967 have today enabled the ME department to become the largest department in terms of undergraduate enrollment within the School of Engineering.

“I am indeed excited about the scholarship opportunity for full-time students majoring in mechanical engineering through the Dr. James R. MacDonald Scholarship Endowment.”

Nash began his professional career with IBM in the late 1960s as an engineer scientist at the company’s federal systems division in Huntsville, Alabama.

Commissioned through the Ole Miss Army ROTC program, he served on active duty in 1968-70 as a combat engineering officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Upon returning from Vietnam in 1970, Nash continued graduate studies leading to his doctorate.

He rejoined IBM in 1973, holding technical and management positions supporting NASA, U.S. Army and Department of Energy programs. Nash’s later responsibilities included serving as strategic planning manager for IBM’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, facility and program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration and International Air Traffic Management programs. He continued in the latter position during the sale of IBM’s Federal Systems Division to the Loral Corp., and the subsequent acquisition of Loral by Lockheed Martin.

Following his retirement from Lockheed Martin in 2004, Nash served for a year as assistant dean for corporate relations in the School of Engineering before establishing his consulting company. A member of the engineering school’s advisory board, he was honored as UM’s Engineer of Distinction in 1996.

MacDonald received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in 1927 and his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1936. He worked as a research engineer with Hotpoint Inc., as a process engineer with Boeing Aircraft Co., and as a materials and process engineer with North American Aviation Co. His academic career began as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at West Virginia University and later at the University of Denver.

MacDonald joined the Ole Miss faculty in 1953 as an associate professor of chemical and mechanical engineering. Three year later, he was named professor of mechanical engineering and chair of the mechanical engineering department.

MacDonald was believed to be the state’s first metallurgist. While a member of the Ole Miss faculty, he held summer positions at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, U.S. Naval Mine Defense Laboratory, U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory and the Redstone Arsenal.

He was co-author of “Metallurgy for Engineers” (1957).

MacDonald’s professional memberships included the American Society of Metals, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. Before his retirement in 1969, he was also elected to Sigma Xi scientific research honorary. MacDonald died in 1988.

Chemical Engineering Graduates Admitted to Medical, Dental Schools

Cary Roy and David Langford headed to UMMC and Columbia University, respectively

Cary Roy has been accepted into the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Submitted photo

As the spring semester ended, many University of Mississippi engineering students began working at various companies throughout the country. Others anticipated pursuing graduate school. And some students, including Cary Roy and David Langford, have chosen to take their problem-solving skills into the field of medicine.

Roy, of Moss Point, and Langford, of Atlanta, have been accepted into medical school and dental school, respectively. Both completed their chemical engineering degrees in May.

Increasingly, engineering students are seeking careers in medicine as the medical field becomes increasingly driven by technology. The addition of a biomedical engineering degree at Ole Miss likely will continue the trend of students seeking engineering degrees as a pathway to medical careers.

“I would have considered pursuing the newly created biomedical engineering degree if it had been available when I chose to enroll here from the Mississippi School of Math and Science four years ago,” Roy said. “I believe that the new program will benefit future students considering careers in medicine.”

But the pre-medicine track offered through chemical engineering worked best for Langford, who was admitted to Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine. He plans to pursue a doctorate in dental surgery.

His interest in following a path to medical school was a result of his interest in both chemistry and mathematics. Chemical engineering allowed Langford to study both concepts.

“Being raised with parents and grandparents who worked in health care, I wanted a degree that would allow me to explore all of my interests,” he said. “I found an intriguing parallel between the fields of dentistry and engineering during my undergraduate studies.”

Roy was admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He, too, felt that a chemical engineering degree seemed like the perfect combination of challenge and interest.

Roy developed an interest in attending medical school to find a career path that allowed him to help others.

David Langford has been accepted into the Doctor of Dental Surgery program at Columbia University. Submitted photo

“My engineering background greatly benefits me as I prepare to attend medical school in the fall,” he said. “It has given me a unique set of skills that are flexible and useful in a variety of areas, including medicine.”

Both Langford and Roy are graduates of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and completed research towards a senior thesis.

Langford’s thesis focused on “Development of Standard Operating Procedure: Admicellar Polymerization of Polystyrene Thin Film (AIBN) on Polysciences 30-50µm Glass Beads Using Cetyltrimethyl-Ammonium Bromide Surfactant.” He worked with Adam Smith, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and John O’Haver, professor and chair of chemical engineering, to complete his project.

Roy worked with Wei-Yei Chen, professor of chemical engineering, to conduct his research on “The Effects of Ultrasonic and Photochemical Pretreatment on Heating Value and Carbon Capturing Ability of Fast Pyrolysis-Derived Biochars.”

Besides Roy’s work on an Honors thesis, he completed a clinical shadowing program at UMMC that allowed him to observe and shadow physicians working in the anesthesiology and family medicine departments. For Roy, this experience was important in his commitment to the medical field.

“This up-close-and-personal experience with medicine strengthened my desire to attend medical school as it showed me how doctors practice their craft and use their skills to help those in need,” he said. “I also believe that the experience proved to be valuable on my medical school applications.”

Similarly, Langford believes that two summer internships with the U.S. Olympic Committee enhanced his applications for dental school. During his internship in Colorado, he worked with USOC physicians, clinicians, physical therapists and other staff in a variety of medical treatments that the Olympic and Paralympic athletes required.

Outside the classroom, both Roy and Langford were involved in a variety of activities. Langford was a member of Delta Psi fraternity, Engineering Ambassadors and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He also was selected for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa society, Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi.

Roy was a member of Tau Beta Pi, AIChE and Engineering Ambassadors. He also served on the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council and was an officer in the American Medical Student Association.

In the future, Roy hopes to work in a public hospital in Mississippi and open a free clinic to provide basic medical services to underprivileged and underserved people. Langford’s plans include postdoctoral residencies in orthodontics, maxillofacial surgery or general dentistry.