Carlson wins Lifetime Service Award

By Madeline Keleher

Donald E. Carlson, professor of theoretical and applied mechanics at the University, recently received the 2005 Lifetime Service Award from the American Academy of Mechanics for his many contributions to the field of mechanics.

“(Receiving the award was a) simple surprise,” Carlson said. “I didn’t know I had been nominated.”

Jim Phillips, professor and associate head of TAM, said that Carlson was nominated “for his outstanding service to the department and to the profession of mechanics in general.”

Phillips has known Carlson for nearly 40 years and has always admired his interest and devotion to the science of mechanics, he said.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Phillips said.

Linus Trippe, senior in Engineering, is taking a class under Carlson this semester and feels the award is well deserved.

“(The award) shows how multitalented (Carlson) is,” Trippe said. “It’s not just about the research or just about the students, it’s about being well-rounded.”

Carlson has been involved in TAM since the beginning days of its undergraduate program. When he first arrived at the University as a student, TAM was only available to graduate students.

In 1960, Carlson earned his bachelor’s degree as a member of the department’s first undergraduate class. He stayed one more year to earn his master’s in TAM in 1961, and then went on to earn a doctorate at Brown University in 1965. He has been a member of the TAM faculty at the University for more than 40 years.

Carlson said in addition to the students and the interaction with people, what he likes about teaching is “organizing information, trying to really understand things.”

Trippe specifically requested Carlson as a teacher this semester.

“He is the most down-to-earth professor that I’ve ever known in my life,” Trippe said.

Today, TAM has the lowest student-to-faculty ratio in the College of Engineering and is one of only two TAM programs in the nation.

Amidst the outstanding success of the department are visible scars of the University’s attempt to dissolve it. Upon entering Talbot Lab, home to TAM, a yellow paper sign is immediately apparent. The sign says, simply: “SAVE TAM.”

The proposal made last October to merge the department with the mechanical and industrial engineering department has stirred up strong opposition from the department’s students and faculty. The TAM faculty voted unanimously against the merger, and in December, over 100 students rallied together to protest the merger. Buttons, signs, letters to the newspaper and even a student-created Web site,, have been used to try to save the department.

The TAM department has existed at the University for 115 years. There are currently about 80 undergraduates in the department, and between 2,500 and 3,000 undergraduate students take TAM courses each year.