John Lewandowski named Distinguished University Professor

When John Lewandowski started at Carnegie Mellon University as a first generation college student in 1974, he “had no idea what to major in.” Having been intrigued by his STEM courses in high school, he took Introduction to Materials Science and became “fascinated” with the topic. 

More than four decades later, Lewandowski has been named a Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University, where he has been a member of the materials science and engineering faculty since January 1986. During Lewandowski’s time at CWRU, he has served as the director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Mechanical Reliability Center (AMMRC) and the Nitinol Commercialization Accelerator Laboratory (NCAL), advised 80 M.S. students and 31 PhD students, supervised 50 postdoctoral scholars and visiting scientists, and taught a wide range of classes, many of which deal with mechanical behavior of materials. He boasts more than 345 journal publications and has 25 edited books and book chapters spanning more than four decades. Additionally, he has given more than 450 invited presentations, organized 45 national and international conferences, and received about 160 grants, totalling nearly $40 million in research funds. He has worked with some of the leading industries in the field of materials, including Howmet, General Electric, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lincoln-Electric, Timken and some medical companies.

"I am very honored and humbled to be selected (as a Distinguished University Professor),” said Lewandowski. “I have worked with many of the CSE DUPs on various projects and/or university committees over the past 35+ years. They are a special group, a resource for CSE and CWRU, and nationally and internationally visible and recognized. I look forward to continuing to engage with them, other DUPs and faculty, students, staff and alums to continue to advance the mission, impact, and visibility of CWRU.”

Frank Ernst, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, praised Lewandowski as having a “consistently outstanding performance in teaching, research, and service.” Ernst said of Lewandowski, “He is an integrating personality, consistently welcoming and engaging to students and faculty colleagues. He has been consistent in leadership in research and impressive with his strong research program for more than 35 years. He made major contributions to the infrastructure of our campus through leading centers. He has very highly impressive accomplishments, consistent over 35 years. He is one of the most highly respected colleagues on our campus. He has accomplished highly impressive placements of a great number of undergraduate and graduate students, sending them on to excellent careers.”

Lewandowski founded the Mechanical Characterization of Materials Center (now AMMRC) in 1987, hiring Christopher Tuma to co-direct the facility. When Lewandowski founded the center, there were only about ten mechanical testing machines, many of which were outdated and needed upgrades. Now, AMMRC boasts more than twenty pieces of manufacturing and mechanical characterization equipment valued over $5 million. Ernst described AMMRC as providing “high-impact essential services to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students for decades.” The equipment in the center’s deformation processing laboratory was brought in from a combination of a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant and Ohio Third Frontier funding. Work in AMMRC is “done on a large and small scale,” said Lewandowski. 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewandowski wrote to the university administration to say it was important to somehow keep AMMRC labs open, and guidelines were implemented so that the lab could continue to operate in a safe manner. As a result, AMMRC grew and got more grants, and researchers were able to get reports out,  publish papers, and graduate. “People were very happy working with us,” said Lewandowski.

AMMRC is one of the most used facilities in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Students who take EMSE 372: Structural Materials by Design, which Lewandowski teaches, conduct testing in AMMRC. It is not uncommon for students to conduct their senior project research or individual projects in the laboratory. Students in other departments in the Case School of Engineering, the Case School of Medicine, the APT Center and the Cleveland VA also use AMMRC equipment.

Presently, Lewandowski teaches EMSE 372: Structural Materials by Design, EMSE 421: Fracture of Materials and EMSE 422: Failure Analysis. Despite COVID-19 restrictions in Fall 2020, Lewandowski made sure that students taking EMSE 372, which has a lecture component and a lab component, could have as full an experience as possible. He worked with his TA’s to tie the lab experience to the course’s lectures and broke the students into lab groups that were made up of students on and off campus. The on-campus students came into the lab, did the experiments and generated data that they sent to the remote students. Lab specimens were mailed to the homes of students off campus, including one student in Spain, and each lab group met over zoom to work on the lab reports. Some of the experiments were also taped. Lewandowski’s efforts in EMSE 372, which also draws students majoring in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, polymers and physics, did not go unnoticed, and student performance and course ratings in Fall 2020 exceeded those of previous years.

Lewandowski has also taught Senior Project, other materials laboratory courses and a materials seminar course in his 35 years at CWRU.

During his early years at CWRU, Lewandowski’s research was mainly focused on structure-property relationships in steels, aluminum alloys and aluminum metal matrix composites. He later expanded his repertoire to study intermetallics, intermetallic composites, refractory intermetallic composites, metallic glasses, metallic glass composites, and nanocomposites. Currently, he has expanded his efforts to include processing-structure-property-performance relationships using  advanced manufacturing techniques, such as additive manufacturing and advanced deformation processing, while mechanical reliability studies have included implantable electrode materials for functional electrical stimulation.

Throughout his time at CWRU, Lewandowski is most proud of his work with students to help them to reach their goals and prepare them for life after their studies, as well as his work with staff and other faculty to deliver CWRU’s research and education mission. He was pleased to be able to publish journal papers with both of his sons, John Robert (BS ‘12 and MEM ’13) and Mark Edward (BS ’16 and MS ’18) who graduated from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at CWRU.  He appreciates the faculty’s engagement in “fostering student participation and growth” and that many alumni “continue to support our mission.” He has worked and published papers with faculty members in many departments of the Case School of Engineering, as well as other schools. He praised CWRU’s “close proximity to industry with interests in manufacturing, structural materials and biomedical materials systems.” His students have gone on to work in the industry, academia and national laboratories.

Though Lewandowski became a faculty member at CWRU in 1986, his first time on the CWRU campus was ten years earlier, when he came as a member of Carnegie Mellon’s track team for a dual meet on Van Horn Field, just outside the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Still a runner, Lewandowski serves as a faculty advisor to CWRU’s track and field team and enjoys attending their competitions, as well as CWRU’s cross country meets and baseball, football and basketball games.

Lewandowski spent the 2003-04 academic year on sabbatical to work in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy and lived with his family at Churchill College, Cambridge University as an Overseas Fellow. His wife Amy, an accomplished watercolor artist, was commissioned to prepare a watercolor painting of Churchill College for Sir John Boyd, Master of Churchill College at the time. While in the United Kingdom, he conducted work on metallic glasses and nano-composite materials. His two highest cited papers, both of which he served as first author on, came from research that he conducted on sabbatical. At Cambridge, he was also a member of the University’s Hare and Hounds club where he competed in cross country and track, training with Cambridge athletes who eventually competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

In 1989, Lewandowski was awarded the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award from then-President George H.W. Bush. He wrote a proposal on composite materials focusing on the use of high pressure to explore the effects in changes of stress state on the flow and fracture of materials. He received a signed plaque and funding from the National Science Foundation, including matching funds from industry. Some of the funds he received were used to bring equipment to AMMRC.

As an undergraduate student, Lewandowski benefited from excellent mentorship and participated in Carnegie Mellon’s cooperative education program, working in CHEVRON’s Richmond Refinery to conduct failure analysis and materials selection for extreme environments. He was offered a position there upon receiving his B.S., but decided to pursue his M.E. at Carnegie Mellon, working on hydrogen embrittlement of stainless steels as a follow up project to his work at CHEVRON. He then began his PhD studies at Carnegie Mellon with the award of a Hertz Foundation Fellowship, studying brittle fracture of steels and hydrogen embrittlement and using many of CWRU Professor Al Troiano’s papers on hydrogen embrittlement as sources. After graduating with his PhD, Lewandowski began a NATO/NSF postdoctoral fellowship with Professor John F. Knott at University of Cambridge, joining one of the biggest research groups in Europe working on fracture and fatigue. 

It was after his NATO/NSF postdoctoral fellowship that Lewandowski came to CWRU as an assistant professor in January 1986. He became an associate professor in 1990 and a full professor in 1994. He was then named Leonard Case, Jr. Professor in 2000 and became the Arthur P Armington Professor II in 2013. He is very thankful for the friendship and excellent mentorship from colleagues at CMU and CWRU, in addition to the support and encouragement of his wife and family.

The first class of Distinguished University Professors was appointed at CWRU’s freshman convocation in 2010. When then-President Barbara Snyder and W. A. “Bud” Baeslack, who served as provost from 2008 to 2018 and is now a professor in the department of materials science and engineering, came to CWRU in 2008, they decided to start the program, inspired by other universities. Baeslack began reviewing practices at peer universities, including the title of the position, the nomination process and the evaluation criteria, which are those posted on the web site. He also established a faculty committee to review and finalize the process and to serve as the selection committee for the first class. “Having the DUP’s recognized and awarded their (very expensive!) sterling silver medals  at freshman convocation was a brilliant idea of Barbara Snyder as it in some sense connected our new undergraduate students with our most eminent professors,” said Baeslack. There have usually been between two and five Distinguished University Professors selected each year from across CWRU. In 2013, another award to recognize Faculty Excellence was added, the Faculty Distinguished Research Award.