Suneel Kodambaka has been appointed head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering, effective July 1.

Kodambaka comes to Virginia Tech from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he has been a faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering since 2007. There, he has served as the vice chair of undergraduate studies from 2013 to 2018 and as the area director of the online master’s degree in structural materials and materials science programs since 2019.

“With the new Holden Hall opening to faculty, students, and research activity this year, Suneel brings an exciting level of energy and enthusiasm to the department as it enters this next phase of its history,” said Julia Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “His deep appreciation for and understanding of the department’s foundations in metallurgy will serve as a catalyst for exploring new methodologies and applications that align with his own research strengths, including those in the biomedical field as well as advanced manufacturing.”

Kodambaka will replace Sean Corcoran, who has served as interim department head since the retirement of David Clark in 2021 after 20 years in the role.

“We thank Sean for his service to the department over this past year,” said Ross. “His stewardship of its programs and oversight of the transition into the newly renovated Holden Hall have surely provided Suneel with a firm footing as he begins his time at Virginia Tech.”

Throughout his career, Kodambaka’s research has focused on the science underlying the synthesis and stability of advanced materials for aerospace, energy storage, optoelectronics, and other industries. He and his research group work to develop detailed atomic-level understanding of the mass transport mechanisms, chemical reaction kinetics, and material thermodynamics controlling morphological, compositional, and structural evolution of materials. His work has been funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, and Northrop Grumman.

Many things drew Kodambaka to Virginia Tech, he said. Top among them is the department’s foresight in preserving and expanding its commitment to metallurgy.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I came here, and I saw that there is a foundry. The Kroehling Advanced Materials Foundry is a hidden jewel,” he said.

Images that show a ring being melted down into gold.
Alan Druschitz (at left), director of the Kroehling Advanced Materials Foundry in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and a student melt down donated class rings into materials for rings for new Hokies. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech.

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.

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