The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


SMU loses husband, wife research team

Two electrical engineering professors have left SMU for greener pastures at UT Arlington.

Don Butler and Zeynep Celik-Butler take with them years of research, experience, materials, staff, grants and students as part of a transfer arrangement between SMU and UT Arlington.

One reason for the move is the possibility of more grant money available to the Butlers at state schools that is not available to private institutions.

Their research programs and the teams that worked on them transferred, taking their entire labs, including lab equipment. The teams worked on projects for the National Science Foundation, the Semiconductor Research Institute and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

UT Arlington dean of engineering, Bill Carroll, thought the move would be beneficial to both the researchers and his school.

“The research being done by the Butlers meshes well with our existing efforts in nanotechnology,” Carroll said. “We’re very excited to have them. The existing grants they bring are very attractive to us. We were also impressed with their international reputations.”

While this move gives the appearance of a substantial loss, Dean Stephen Szygenda of the School of Engineering said that the effect is minimal.

“We look at this as a graduation of sorts. Like with the departing seniors, we are sad to see them go, of course,” Szygenda said. “However, we are very happy for them as individuals. This is a great growth opportunity for them.”

Szygenda said SMU had not made any effort to retain the Butlers or made any counter-offers to keep the team. Only two or three students are leaving SMU, he said.

“The state just dumped a phenomenal amount of grant money out there for research at the state level that we just cannot compete with,” Syzgenda said. “As far as the grants leaving with the professors, that’s part and parcel with any deal of this nature. That’s how recruitment of faculty is done. Grants are awarded to the researchers, not the institution.”

The husband and wife team developed a new material, a polymer called YBaCuO or “Smart Skin”. This is one of the projects leaving SMU.

The skin works through microscopic sensors embedded in a flexible material that can be molded to cover a robot or other device. A robot covered with “Smart Skin” can be sent into areas where the temperatures are too intense for humans. The skin’s sensors inform the monitoring engineers about the environment and tells when to pull the robot back so that it is not damaged.

The Butlers also pioneered research in noise reduction of semiconductor devices and superconductive devices.

“We will be continuing our research on Smart Skin and all of its associated projects here at UTA,” Celik-Butler said. “We are technically on SMU’s staff until Sept. 1, but we have already moved all of our labs, students, staff, materials and everything. There will be some things that we will still communicate with SMU on, but the majority of all work will be here.”

Five new professors will join the engineering school this fall. Mitchell Thornton will transfer from the University of Mississippi and bring his research and grant money to SMU’s computer science department

Fatih Kocan and Saad Mneimneh are recent graduates from California Institute of Technology and Rice University, respectively, who will also join the computer science faculty.

Marc Christensen will join electrical engineering and Paul Krueger will join mechanical engineering faculties. Information was not available from Szygenda’s office about these faculty members.

“I’m quite excited about the changes,” said Hesham El-Rewini, dean of computer engineering. “For the first time in years, turnover has been stabilized and we are experiencing growth through the addition of these three new professors.”

Judy Clark, manager of SMU grant accounting, was unaware of these changes.

“We’re really the last ones to be informed about any of this,” Clark said. “It may be a year to two years before we do. You need to understand, we handle thousands of grants all of the time. Grants come and go.”

Despite the changes, Szygenda is optimistic about the future of the engineering school

“With the new Junkins building and the addition of the new professors and the incoming first years, engineering will have a terrific infusion of new blood,” Szygenda said. “You need new young blood sometimes to stay viable.”

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