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Chris Williams Named Senior Member of National Academy of Inventors

By Virginia Tech Press Release
Chris Williams

Chris Williams, L.S. Randolph Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

NAI senior members are active faculty, scientists, and administrators from NAI Member Institutions whose innovation-producing technologies have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing, and commercialization, while educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors.

The 2022 class of senior members represents 41 research universities and government and nonprofit research institutes. They are named inventors on over 1,093 issued U.S. patents. Williams is among 83 academic inventors named to the 2022 cohort, which also includes Virginia Tech's John Robertson, research professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. The senior member level is a step toward becoming a fellow, the group’s highest distinction, with 1,403 fellows worldwide.

NAI senior memberships are nominated by an existing NAI Senior Member, after which individuals undergo a rigorous selection process by the NAI Senior Member Advisory Committee. New senior members are elected annually on National Inventors’ Day (Feb. 11).

Williams has excelled in the field of additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing), establishing himself as a pioneer from the earliest days of the technology’s appearance on the Virginia Tech campus. He is the director of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab, which maintains a steady stream of innovation and industry partnerships. He joined the faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2008, was named a John R. Jones III Faculty Fellow in 2017, and was named the L.S. Randolph Professor in 2020. He holds four patents and has several under review.

He has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and served as primary investigator or co-primary investigator on more than $25 million of externally funded research.

The DREAMS Lab has grown rapidly since Williams arrived on campus, filling two large rooms in Goodwin Hall and adding the capacity for 3D printing materials such as copper, latex, and Kapton. Projects have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy, and industry partners, among others.

“As a kid dreaming of one day becoming an engineer, I set having a single patent as a 'bucket list' -level achievement,” said Williams. “Now, having the experience to work on multiple inventions and to receive this honor is honestly hard for me to believe. This recognition is not possible without the excellent student researchers and faculty collaborators that I have had the honor to work with here at Virginia Tech. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to research the future of additive manufacturing while working alongside its future leaders.”

Williams has served as a mentor to those future leaders, working with a host of graduate and undergraduate researchers. Undergraduate mentees include two senior design teams and an undergraduate group that came together in the DREAMS lab for a project that was awarded a $75,000 grant from NASA.

Graduate student Lindsey Bezek has worked with Williams since 2014 and is now completing her Ph.D. under Williams' guidance.

"The opportunity to do research in the DREAMS lab, from undergraduate research to my senior design project and now through my Ph.D. research, has been a one-of-a-kind opportunity to work in an internationally-recognized facility with an inspiring mentor," Bezek said. "Dr. Williams genuinely cares about all of his students - their research, their career goals, their success - and he provides individualized advising to help each student's professional growth. Under his guidance, I have learned how to become a better researcher, while improving skills such as writing and presenting, that will prepare me for success in my future career path. As additive manufacturing has evolved over the years, Dr. Williams has invested energy and enthusiasm to continue to learn, explore new ideas, and advance the state of the art for several additive manufacturing processes. He has built a lab culture that encourages experimentation, embraces innovation, and values outreach. His curiosity and passion are what guarantees the sustainability of innovative research in his lab."

Williams has used his lab to model the university motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) by mobilizing his team to produce reusable respirators during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mask could be rapidly reproduced during a critical period of the coronavirus outbreak where the demand for personal protective gear far outpaced supplies, providing a backup that could be created on 3D printers.

Williams also serves as chair of the Additive Manufacturing Community Leadership Committee within the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. He was the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award in 2013 and named a Faculty Fellow of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering in 2015.

"We are very proud of Dr. Williams for receiving this recognition,” said Corina Sandu, acting head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “His career has been exciting to watch, and many of his peers consider him one of the top experts in his field. He is more than deserving of this award.”

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