First Ph.D. awarded by Dept. Of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Nathalie Nève recently became the first student to receive a Ph.D. from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, which is housed in the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Nathalie Nève recently became the first student to receive a Ph.D. from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, which is housed in the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. When Nève began her studies in 2006, the program had not yet been confirmed.

However, on March 10, 2010, Nève successfully defended her dissertation, which was the third and final step in the process of receiving her Ph.D. from the program.

Nève’s dissertation focused specifically on “The MicroPIVOT: An Integrated particle image velocimeter and optical tweezers instrument for microscale studies.”  Through her research, she developed a technique that allows a particle or cell to be optically suspended in a flow such that the particle’s velocity may be measured, manipulated using tweezers, and its surface can be imaged at a very high resolution.

“My research was more in biomechanical engineering,” Nève said. “I started a lab [at PSU] where I had to build a novel instrumentation in the lab for myself and for students in the future to use.”

According to Nève, the device is a combination of two laser technologies: microPIV and optical tweezers. Using these two lazers, Nève was able to develop an instrument that could essentially trap an object in space using light, resulting in minimal interference.

The applications for this device are numerous when considering how it can be used to test fluid stress on particles and synthetic materials that will be used in the human body—a very fluid environment. For example, this knowledge could be used to develop synthetic bones or other biomaterials, Nève said.

“The instrumentation itself is very powerful as well, because we can now better understand how particles interact in different fluids without influencing their reactions,” she said. “We can confirm theories that have been around for centuries.”

For PSU, possessing such an instrument, as well as having been host to the person that created it, is very exciting.

Nève herself said that it is not significant that she specifically was the first to receive her Ph.D. in MME at PSU, but that it happened at all. In recent years the university has been striving to generate a greater amount of its own research and the programs that will allow it to happen.

Her research was conducted under Associate Professor Derek Tretheway, whose research focus is in the Thermal and Fluid Science Group in the department of MME.

His specific areas of focus are micro particle image velocimetry, measurements of flow in microdevices and non-Newtonian fluid flow.

Nève’s success is a part of a larger movement on the part of the College to begin awarding advanced degrees in all of its departments, beginning in 1985 by introducing master’s degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. This came after the School of Engineering and Applied Science left the College of Science and Applied Science and became its own separate entity.

In 1985 the school’s first Ph.D. program was approved in electrical and computer engineering, according to the program’s website. Other engineering-related doctoral programs were offered as a systems science Ph.D. with an emphasis in civil and mechanical engineering. Funding provided by the local technology company Tektronix, Inc. was very crucial in the development and success of the SEAS throughout the 1980s.

In 2000, the College became officially known as the College of Engineering and Computer Science under Robert D. Dryden, who was the dean at the time.

Under Dryden, the program continued to expand and gain further funding for program development. He also helped initiate the Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology, a 136,000 square-foot, five-story building proposed for the Portland State campus on Southwest Fourth Avenue.

In 2004, Fariborz Maseeh, PSU alumnus and founder of the Massiah Foundation, donated $8 million from the Massiah Foundation to the CECS, making it the largest private gift in the university’s history. This officially established the CECS as the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Beyond its institutional background, the Maseeh CECS has also been rapidly expanding its research and education opportunities in recent years. In 2005, the first Ph.D. was awarded to a female student in electrical and computer engineering. 

Nève’s accomplishment only serves to further contribute to the strong legacy of female success in PSU’s engineering programs.

In 2008, two female alumnae from the CECS were inducted into the Denice Dee Denton Women Engineers Hall of Fame at the College.

Nève’s current success adds to a long list of past achievements, including the receipt of funding for her research from the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Technology and Industry Council and the National Institutes of Health. She also received the College’s Maseeh Fellowship in 2008–09.

Nève received her B.S. and M.S. in mechanical and materials engineering from the Ecole Polytechnique Feminine in France. She also received her M.S. in bioengineering from Clemson University in 2004. 

As far as the future is concerned, Nève sees herself eventually becoming a professor.

Commenting on why she would like to become a professor, she said, “We all remember one of our best professors, and it would be nice to be one of those.”

For now, however, Nève plans on taking some time off. She is currently nine months pregnant and would like to raise her 19 month-old and her new baby before trying to find an industry job.