Alumni Merit Award: Chin-Teh Sun (McC65, 67)
Though C T Sun has since made his mark contributing to the development of advanced composite materials used in aircraft and spacecraft, a more terrestrial mode of transportation made his Northwestern experience far more enjoyable.
“In the 1960s there was only one subpar Chinese restaurant on Church Street in Evanston,” recalls Sun, who earned his undergraduate degree at National Taiwan University. “To get decent Chinese food, we took the el to Chinatown on weekends. That was fun.”
Fortunately, if he ever gets nostalgic for some authentic cuisine, he’s still only a couple hours away.
Since 1996 Sun has been Purdue University’s Neil A. Armstrong Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics — a position named for one of the school’s most celebrated graduates. He has taught at the university since 1968.
Sun is also director of the McDonnell Douglas Composite Materials Laboratory, which he established in 1973 to research composite materials and structures. He specializes in the study
of composites, fracture mechanics, structural dynamics, and nano materials.
His work has garnered much recognition. Sun received a Purdue College of Engineering Research Award for faculty excellence in 2004, and won the prestigious Warner T. Koiter Medal in 2007 from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He has been named a fellow of that organization as well as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the American Society for Composites.
Of course, Sun has been known as much for his exceptional ability to mentor students as for his cutting-edge research.
“Since joining the faculty of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University, I have successfully supervised nearly 100 PhDs,” he notes. “I cannot believe what I have done.”
Northwestern played a key role in this success. Sun, who earned degrees in civil and environmental engineering, said the University exposed him to many of the top researchers in the field of theoretical and applied mechanics. Specifically, he credits his thesis advisor, Professor Jan Achenbach, for influencing his research and Professor John Dundurs for showing him how to teach.
Adds Sun: “I still remember the excellent seminar series with world-class speakers sponsored by the theoretical and applied mechanics program at Northwestern. In addition to the opportunity to meet famous researchers from all over the world, we students very much enjoyed the free coffee and donuts.”
C T Sun and his wife, Iris Sun, live in West Lafayette, Indiana. They have a son and two daughters.