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Chris Wetteland shows 3D printing capabilities during a summer camp for visiting STEM students.

Chris Wetteland Goes West

Colleagues and students appreciate Chris Wetteland for the encouraging, positive energy and outgoing nature that he brings to the myriad of projects, classes, and outreach programs he has led or participated with in his time at UT.

Wetteland, associate professor of practice in materials science and engineering, will share these gifts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory beginning in 2021. This marks a return for him—he researched ion beam analysis and radiation damage in materials at Los Alamos in years past.

Chris Wetteland.
Chris Wetteland

His core duties within MSE have included laboratory coursework and senior-design advising, but he has maintained a dance card well beyond that. His repertoire includes:

Wetteland will be truly missed for the positivity and good humor he brought to his high level of engagement throughout the college.

Colleagues Share Their Thoughts on the Chris Wetteland Experience

“When we had a peer teaching review done for Chris a few years ago, Professor Ed Burdette was part of his review committee. Needless to say, having somebody of that caliber on your teaching review committee causes some trepidation, with Chris but also with me. There was no need to worry. Dr. Burdette’s report was glowing, and called Chris’s course the ‘ne plus ultra of lab classes’—coming from Dr. Burdette, that’s quite a compliment!

“Last year, one of the assignments to the students in his MSE304 class had them ‘in stitches.’ He tasked the students to write a humorous article about a (fictitious) theft of the perovskite crystal structure from the lobby display case. Four MSE professors were possible suspects with strong motives, and the students had to use their materials science knowledge to identify the thief. I’ve never had so much fun reading student papers!”— Veerle Keppens, Professor and Department Head, Materials Science and Engineering

“Chris was my first undergraduate research assistant back in the days when I was a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Our first co-authored publication came in 1998: ‘Radiation Damage Effects in Ferroelectric LiTaO3 Single Crystals.’

“Chris and Professor Claudia Rawn are responsible for completely transforming the undergraduate program in MSE, one that has garnered the envy of some sister programs that we perceive as aspirational competitors. He has an admirable gift for working effectively with young people and helping them both to succeed and to appreciate their success.

“It is probably an understatement to say that Chris is adored by nearly all students that he has instructed and mentored. His dedication to education and higher learning is unparalleled. Chris will be sorely missed in MSE and in the greater UTK community.” —Kurt Sickafus, Professor, Materials Science and Engineering

“I get buried in the weeds looking at my keyboard trying to check off boxes on my action-item list. Chris gets up and walks around and meets people and makes everyone feel special. He (and my former student John Salasin) were always telling me, ‘We need to get ‘X’ a gift card for going above and beyond.’ I just never thought of doing things like that, and once they included me it was amazing what recognizing people like this did for everyone’s morale.

“With all he had going on it was always amazing to find him with a wrench in his hands putting together a solar power hot water heating for an Engineers Day hand washing station or making solar smoothies for Materials Camp.” —Claudia Rawn, Professor, Materials Science and Engineering and Director, Center for Materials Processing

“Chris has an energy that is contagious and you can’t help but be a student of the school of Wetteland whether you are a student or a colleague working with him. Chris reminds me to always work with a passion and it’s so inspirational to see someone who has so well put his passions into his workspace.

“I had a design project for which the civil engineering seniors wanted to explore solar power and actually build their prototype. I sent them to Chris as the obvious expert on the topic and next thing I know, our entire group is hanging out in his garage on a Sunday afternoon talking solar, talking design, and just having a special time.

“Chris finds this way to know you and to integrate you into his interests; you can’t help but be comfortable with him and feel valued to him—he knows how to really identify your strengths and is not shy to help vocalize them to you and with you. I leave every conversation from him genuinely happy and oddly proud. Usually, I don’t even know what I’m proud of. I just know that Chris saw something in our conversation and he valued that exchange. —Jennifer Retherford, Senior Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Chris is an iconoclastic person, as he very definitely takes the path less travelled to bring rich benefit to those around him in a host of activities: K-12 STEM outreach, recruiting new engineers from high school, ensuring that instructional laboratories deliver on being environments for successful hands on state-of-the-art student learning, initiating and building new efforts to support industry partnering with TCE expertise, being a deeply committed colleague.

“He did all of this while navigating from an initial staff appointment to being a lecturer in engineering while pursuing his PhD in Earth & Planetary Sciences, which is a truly rare employment/education path. All of this went on while his wonderful wife, Jen, who has a very active and demanding professional career, and his two daughters are growing into intriguing persons with strong academic performance and a commitment to competitive swimming, and the long hours that entails.

“We will all feel the hole where Chris has been when he leaves because the complexity and depth of how he positively impacted the TCE world will need multiple persons to replicate.” —Bill Dunne, Associate Dean & Professor, Research & Facilities

“I was an undergraduate student in MSE when Chris first came to the university. I got to experience firsthand his revamping of the laboratory courses and later on the lab spaces. His enthusiasm and engagement with students motivated their involvement and strive to improve both their understanding of materials science and level of work. Later on, as a graduate student, I had the fortune of assisting Chris as a TA for his laboratory classes and the summer programs the department was involved in including Governor’s School and Materials Camp. His efforts and excitement in introducing younger students to the field of materials science led many to choosing UT’s MSE program for their degree path.

“He has been a smiling friendly face within the department and to all of those that have gotten to know him during his time at UT. I am thankful for the time that I was able to get to know Chris as an instructor and mentor and all that I have learned from him. His solar smoothies on the Ferris lawn will forever be remembered and I wish him all the best on his next endeavors at Los Alamos!” —Brianna Musicó, Graduate Research Assistant, Materials Science and Engineering

Wetteland washes his hands at a solar-powered heated wash station.
Wetteland washes his hands at the solar-powered heated wash station built by the 2020 TranSCEnD cohort.

“From the very beginning, I’ve noticed Dr. Wetteland is consistently outgoing, optimistic, and excited to get me involved in anything he thinks possible. Despite the worldwide pandemic, the college essentially shutting down, and the new rules and regulations, he found ways to keep me active on projects and excited for the day I’d actually be going into lab.

“I’d say the energy and passion he puts into his work encourages students to put forth the same effort. He’s given me so many opportunities to try new processes, network, and even try out a new field of engineering. As a chemical engineer researching in materials science, it’s all pretty new, but he continues to encourage me to keep going.

“He always makes you feel appreciated and valued. Even after a few weeks of not talking in person/over zoom or catching up on work, having a single conversation would put me right back on track with the mindset that I’m doing well and that my work is worthwhile.

“If I have experienced a ‘that’s so Chris Wetteland’ moment in my time of working with him, I’d say it occurred in a gift I received shortly after presenting research for the first time. He gave me a pillow with my research poster printed on it; a totally unique gift that was so unexpected but made me feel appreciated and now I’ll always have something to remind of my first ever research project.” —Lauren Eccles, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Materials Science and Engineering

Chris Wetteland stirs bowl full of dry ice.
Chris Wetteland mixes solar power and dry ice to offer “solar-powered smoothies” for summer students.