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Spotlight on a Department Benefactor: Alexander Azarkhin
Each year, the Department of Mechanical Engineering selects one exceptional graduate student to receive the Alexander Azarkhin Scholarship. Although many in the department are aware of the Azarkhin Scholarship and of the tremendous benefit it has brought to its recipients, few are familiar with the scholarship’s benefactor, whose life story and accomplishments have just as much power to motivate and inspire as the award he sponsors.
Born in Ukraine, Azarkhin completed an M.S. in Engineering and an M.S. in Mathematics at Kharkov State Institute of Civil Engineering and Kharkov State University, respectively. In 1963, he earned his Ph.D. in stress analysis from Russia’s Novosibirsk Railway Institute. Before moving to Michigan, he served as an associate professor at Krasnoyarsk Polytechnic Institute in Russia and as a senior researcher at Research Institute of Environmental Protection and Energy Recovery in Metallurgy in Ukraine. He immigrated to the United States in 1981, a difficult time for people to leave the USSR. Azarkhin then began studying at the University of Michigan in pursuit of his second doctorates degree in Applied Mechanics.
While at U-M, Azarkhin’s research centered on the topic of thermal-mechanical modeling of friction and wear. His faculty advisor while completing his PhD was ME Professor James Barber, with whom he remains in touch today. The two first met when Azarkhin enrolled as a student in Barber’s Theory of Elasticity course. “He was very memorable as being someone who asked me extremely challenging questions about the material,” recalled Barber. “On many occasions I had to think long and hard to answer him, usually after the class, and this led to our getting to know each other.” Barber credited Azarkhin’s ability to challenge the course material intelligently in part to the rigorous mathematical training he received as a student in the former USSR.
Upon graduating with his second PhD. in 1985, Azarkhin took a job in the research department at ALCOA, the world’s leading producer of aluminum. During his time at ALCOA, he found that the work he had done at U-M on thermoelastic instabilities in brakes could be applied to an instability observed in the casting of metals. After working for several years at ALCOA, Azarkhin transferred to General Dynamics, where he is currently employed as a specialist in an analysis and simulation group.
Funded by Azarkhin’s generous donations, the Alexander Azarkhin Scholarship was established shortly after he completed his PhD at U-M. He sees his decision to donate to the department as a way of giving back. “I came as an immigrant without money and I was able to do it,” he said. “I wanted to make it easier for someone else to do it, too.” A brief look at some of the award’s most recent recipients proves that his sponsorship is certainly fulfilling this intent by helping students realize their educational and professional goals:
Last year’s scholarship winner Andrew Sloboda is currently pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering with a focus on nonlinear dynamics. Specifically, he is working on ways to detect changes in system parameters, which can have applications in damage detection and sensing. Upon graduating, he hopes to find a teaching position.
Sameh Tawfick, the recipient of the 2010 Alexander Azarkhin Scholarship, obtained his MS in mechanical engineering from Cairo University and is currently an ME PhD candidate. Part of his research involves the development of a method called "capillary forming.” He believes the materials and textures fabricated by this method can find applications in dry adhesives, non-wetting surfaces and anisotropic electric conductors.
Mrinal Iyer, the recipient of the 2009 Azarkhin Scholarship, obtained his MSE in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and is currently a PhD student in the ME Department. He is studying deformation mechanisms in Al-Mg alloys using electronic structure calculations.
Woo Kyun Kim, the 2008 winner, completed his PhD in ME last year and is now doing research at the University of Minnesota as a postdoctoral fellow. He works in the department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics researching the computer simulation of nano-scale phenomena, in particular nano-scale friction.