Suneel Kodambaka appointed head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering | VTx

Metallurgy fell out of fashion in the United States over the past few decades with the outsourcing of steelmaking to other countries, Kodambaka said. In response, many materials science programs largely phased out traditional metallurgy programs. But with the emergence of high-tech companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, the domestic metals industry is primed for a comeback, and Virginia Tech could help lead it.

“A lot of our green technologies — electric vehicles, solar cells, batteries — require a variety of precious metals. Everybody wants to buy a Tesla electric vehicle, for example. But to make it, where are you getting your metals from? You have to shop outside the country because nobody’s making them — or mining them — here,” he said.

That dependence on foreign markets for critical raw materials needed to devise new alloys for space travel and a new green economy could limit American innovation, Kodambaka said. But by maintaining its mining and metallurgy programs, Virginia Tech is perfectly positioned to help the country bring these industries home. 

“There will be a revival. Metallurgy is key to the 3D printing of, for example, biomedical implants and other advanced manufacturing technologies,” Kodambaka said. “One of my goals is to enhance the visibility of Virginia Tech’s metallurgy and train more engineers for the American workforce.”

While the department has maintained its strong metals program, Kodambaka said he’s heartened to see that it also has committed to advanced polymers, tissue engineering, nanomaterials, computational science, and high-temperature ceramics. “The department has enormous potential for growth in the areas of quantum information science, biotechnology, catalysis, and more. Keeping up with materials innovations offers students a well-rounded education and ample research and career opportunities.”

As a dedicated educator who has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels throughout his tenure at UCLA, Kodambaka has developed new courses and served on a range of committees to improve education and student life. As the departmental Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology representative at UCLA, he revised and updated curricula and evaluated instruction.

Kodambaka received his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2002, earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1996, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in India in 1995.