UMD Leading Professor inducted into National Academy of Engineering

Dr. James Hubbard of UMD is the first to be inducted into the NAE for advances in adaptive structures.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -  After decades of work, a leading engineer earns a prestigious recognition. Dr. James Hubbard, Jr., 64, has been inducted into the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

Hubbard serves as the Langley Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland (UMD). The NAE recognizes his contributions to engineering in the advances of adaptive structures. The field of adaptive structures spans a mere three decades. Hubbard is the first to become recognized in adaptive structures at the NAE level. 

"I was stunned. I still am, I still am. Stunned! I mean whoever, in their wildest imagination, thinks that they'll actually make it this far," said Hubbard on induction day, Oct. 9, 2016.

At 18 years old Hubbard served as a licensed Marine Engineer with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War era. He earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at MIT before teaching at his alma mater. He eventually became the chief engineer of a private lab before returning to academia. He holds over a dozen patents for sensors in medical devices, automobile seats and airplane wings. 

"And I was particularly curious about what was on God's mind when he created many things," said Hubbard about a lifelong passion for engineering.

NAE includes over 2,200 top-notch engineers worldwide. Founded by a proposition by President Abraham Lincoln, the select group serves as expert advisors on projects for the nation. About 1 out of 8 engineers considered for membership eventually gets inducted, according to Dr. C.D. (Dan) Mote, Jr., President of NAE.

"So these people were chosen because of their talents and their experience and their credential to work as advisors to government in a very independent way," Mote said.

Hubbard's work involves "smart skins," technological structures that adapt and respond to the environment and may be placed over a surface.

"[I've designed] smart skins that can go on a wing and allow the airplane to feel the flow," Hubbard explained.

Decades of engineering achievements later, Hubbard got the news from NAE after checking his work mail.  

"I had no idea, none whatsoever, what it was. I opened it up and I saw a letter indicating that I had been accepted into the National Academy, and I literally laid down in the middle of the floor and just stared up at the ceiling. I could not believe it," Hubbard described his initial astonishment.  

Hubbard shares the spotlight with 101 new NAE members from across the country and abroad. Each year NAE adds new talent to its ranks. Current NAE members build projects scaling atoms to outer space.  

The Grand Challenges for Engineering is a global initiative addressing 14 areas ranging from virtual reality to medicine. The initiative also engages school and university students to work on engineering projects. 

Hubbard decided to return to academia because of the opportunity to work with students who will become the next generation of engineers.

"In order to achieve the dream that I was pursuing, I finally realized I finally needed more than me. I needed the wisdom of age but also needed the do of youth and the excitement of youth in order to reach my dream," said the professor with UMD's Aerospace Engineering Department and at the National Institute of Aerospace.

During the induction ceremony, Hubbard walked across the stage accompanied by applause from his wife and NAE colleagues inside the NAE auditorium. He said he vowed never to bring work stress home to his wife and children. Now his family is beginning to realize his work and how he is viewed by his colleagues: 

"For me, it's just 40 years of sacrifice and very hard work, and this is just a wonderful validation that it was worth it. And that all that work is now viewed by some of the best and brightest in the business as a significant contribution. Otherwise, you'd never know. And now I know. And so I feel good about that. That there are those out there that feel like my work was significant."


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