Alumni Focus: Duncan Greeley

In the upcoming edition of Scribe, ESK features several alumni who are doing great things in the Knoxville community and beyond. We will bring those same stories to the blog here at esknoxville.og.

Today, we begin with Duncan Greeley, a member of the ESK Class of 2008. He recently graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in materials science and engineering. During his time at UT, Duncan was a member of the College of Engineering honors program and visited China in October of 2015 as part of the NAE second Global Grand Challenge Summit.

We spoke with Duncan about his time at UT and his experience in China:

How did your time at ESK prepare you for high school? 

At ESK a strong emphasis was placed on academic excellence encompassing a well-rounded curriculum. In addition to starting off high school with significantly above grade level comprehension of mathematics, my time at ESK taught me how to learn by helping me develop the advanced critical thinking skills necessary for further study in the language arts, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Was there a teacher (or can you think of a story) that captures what makes ESK special? 

It is nearly impossible to narrow down my many experiences at ESK into one single story, as I can remember to this day learning addition and subtraction in Chris Bishop’s first grade class, helping run the student supply store in Lucy Tyler’s second grade class, years of ceramics and painting in art with Marie Gibson, and countless hours of music in preparation for Christmas pageants with Deborah Sousa. I also remember the years of progress as ESK moved to the school’s hilltop site with our classes originally taking place in trailers connected by wooden boardwalks, watching over time as the campus expanded to include the Bishop Center and Googe Hall. Overall though, what made ESK truly special to me was the school’s focus on developing the character of its students through emphasis of the Tribes Agreements, community service, and experiential learning. I know for certain that I would not have grown to be the person that I am today had I not attended ESK, and I am profoundly thankful for that opportunity.

Where did you develop your passion for engineering? 

It sounds cliché, but as I neared the end of high school I wanted to enter a field that would provide the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Growing up I always enjoyed math and science, and specifically their application to how the world around us worked, and this naturally led me to consider majoring in engineering. After attending an ASM Materials Camp hosted by the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee I ended up in materials science and engineering (MSE), a field that combines aspects of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering to the design and development of new materials. I enjoy MSE specifically due to its broad applicability and unique and interdisciplinary nature, for example development of novel lightweight materials and structural designs allow for breakthroughs in the aerospace, marine, renewable energy, automotive, and biomedical industries.

What are your plans for post graduation? 

After graduation, I plan on working as a post-bachelors research assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a year, and begin graduate studies in mechanical engineering the following fall.

Can you tell me a little your experiences in the Engineering Honors Program? Specifically your trip to China.

Early on in my junior year, I was invited to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) at UT, a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) initiative which includes curricular and extracurricular programs designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the main grand engineering challenges facing society. The program is composed of five curricular pillars: research, interdisciplinary coursework, entrepreneurship, global connection, and service learning. As a part of the combined global dimension and entrepreneurship pillars, the NAE, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering , and the PRC Chinese Academy of Engineering organize a biyearly Global Grand Challenges Summit that includes a student day competition. For the 2015 Summit hosted by the Chinese Academy of Engineering in Beijing, I worked with four other UT GCSP engineering honors students on a pitch for a zeolite-based agricultural methane and odor capturing system.

I will always remember the trip to China with the GCSP as the most eye-opening and rewarding part of my college experience at UT. At the summit, we had the opportunity to present our innovative idea to help address an engineering challenge facing the global community, and hear the ideas of other students from all across the world. In addition, the summit featured various industry, government, and academic leaders from the three host nations who spoke on cooperative efforts to address issues in a variety of fields including healthcare, infrastructure, carbon sequestration, and cybersecurity. The viewpoints presented really grounded in me the fact that solving these engineering challenges in the 21st century will necessitate global collaboration. Engineering can no longer take place in a vacuum – we will need to draw upon the knowledge of people with different cultural, regional, and technical backgrounds to understand fundamental causes of why these problems exist in certain areas, and formulate solutions that take these regional differences into consideration.

What topic has been the focus of your studies at UT? 

I first became involved with research the summer following my freshman year, when I joined a project led by Dr. David Keffer investigating oxygen permeability in biodegradable chitosan-based polymer films for the food packaging industry. The goal of the project was to utilize the Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator (LAMMPS) to perform molecular dynamics simulations on chitosan films to determine the underlying mechanism behind oxygen diffusivity at various relative humidities. After a few research internships in government and industry labs, in the fall of 2015 I started working under Dr. Suresh Babu at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility on research into Selective Laser Melting of AlSi10Mg. In addition to this project, I have been working this spring on a honors senior design research project investigating design of PLA composite wire feedstocks for use in Fused Deposition Modeling under Dr. Gajanan Bhat.

What will it mean to see your brother following in your footsteps this fall at UT? 

I am extremely proud of Ian for the many accomplishments that he has achieved so far, and I am excited to see him begin his journey at the University of Tennessee this fall. In addition to being a national merit finalist, Ian was selected as the recipient of the 2016 UT-Battelle Scholarship due to his outstanding academic achievement and extracurricular involvement throughout high school. He will be entering the College of Engineering at UT, and has been selected to join both the Engineering Honors Program, and the Chancellor’s Honors Program.