John Dolbow, Class of 1995

Picture of  John Dolbow

John Dolbow graduated from the University Honors Program in 1995 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has since completed his MS and PhD at Northwestern, and joined the faculty at Duke University, where he continues his research in computational mechanics and material sciences. Below, John speaks about his experiences at UNH.

Can you tell us about your background, John?
I grew up in Goffstown, NH, a small town just outside of Manchester. As a child I really wanted to be a test pilot or an astronaut.

Why did you decide to attend UNH and what was your major?
I majored in Mechanical Engineering. UNH was not my top choice of colleges, but given the experience I had there, it probably should have been. I was impressed when I visited campus and spoke to some of the faculty in Mechanical Engineering. I decided to matriculate at UNH after the school offered me a merit scholarship.

Were you involved with any sports, organizations, or extracurricular activities while at UNH?
Yes, I was a member of the UNH Crew Team for a few years. I was also active in the student section of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) at UNH.

How did the Honors Program contribute to your experience at UNH?
I valued the Honors Program a great deal at UNH. The courses I took in the Honors Program were uniformly outstanding. I also enjoyed completing Honors in Major for Mechanical Engineering.

What is your most significant memory as an Honors student? Did you have any notable professors?
I was very fortunate as an undergraduate to work on a research project for IBM with Professors Mike Gosz (now at IIT) and Todd Gross. That work resulted in two journal articles that continue to be cited today. Mike and I have become good friends over the years and in an interesting twist, his son is applying to the engineering school at Duke, where I teach.

The Honors math sequence at UNH was also really exceptional. I really enjoyed the course taught by Lee Zia (who has since left UNH for the National Science Foundation). Finally, I’ll mention the Honors Shakespeare’s Politics course taught by John Kayser.

Did you write a thesis while at the Honors Program?
My undergraduate research work was published in two journal articles. The project was sponsored by IBM and concerned the delamination of polyimide films in thin copper-silicon interconnects. The polyimide films were so thin that it was difficult to estimate their material properties, so we developed a computational model to explore the impact of a range of properties on delamination. We also developed methods to analyze the separation of the film from the copper via crack propagation. Both papers continue to be cited heavily.

What did you do after graduation?
I entered the doctoral program in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Northwestern. After I received my PhD, I joined the faculty at Duke University, where I have been ever since.

What exciting things have you been doing in your field?
I direct the Duke Computational Mechanics Laboratory. The lab studies the important role that defects and interfaces play in material systems using computational science. The lab has several different concurrent projects at the moment, ranging from the study of wave-energy conversion systems, to the failure of nuclear fuel rods, to the formation of nanodomains on the surface of giant unilamellar vesicles.

Is there any advice you would like to share with incoming, current, or graduating students?
UNH is a fantastic institution with great faculty. You should explore opportunities to do research with faculty – don’t be afraid to ask!

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