From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Faculty Feature: Niel Crews

Jul 23, 2013 | Faculty Feature

Dr. Niel Crews is a hero.  He has also been recognized by NASA and is one of Tech’s shining stars. Niel joined our Mechanical Engineering program and Institute for Micromanufacturing five years ago. He is also a member of the Center for Biomedical Engineering and Rehabilitation Science. Niel obtained his doctorate at the University of Utah, masters at South Carolina, and bachelors at Erskine College in South Carolina.  His research interests lie in the sparsely populated space between microfluidics and thermodynamics. By applying theoretical rigor to the very experimentalist-driven field of microfluidics, he has been able to lead his research team to the cutting edge in such thermal bioreactor applications as rapid genetic screening and high-throughput calorimetry. This had led to nearly a dozen publications in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. Niel has successfully supported research by securing more than 20 research grants totaling in excess of $2M.  He was recently awarded the largest NASA grant ever received by a Tech faculty member. This 3-year project totaling almost $1M will investigate how high doses of space radiation during extended duration space missions will affect astronauts. Beyond his own research, Niel has served as a great resource for and supporter of his colleagues.  His research lab is open to all comers and many have used his resources for their own preliminary data, thereby achieving collaborations that are so critical in the modern funding climate. He has been the local institutional coordinator for the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE) program that has resulted in a greater number of NASA-relevant research awards being won by his colleagues in different disciplines and even at other universities. As a teacher, Niel considers himself a cosmopolitan. He seeks out opportunities to regularly venture beyond his own field of thermo-fluids to teach courses in other mechanical engineering tracks. He is highly innovative in his classes and believes that academic effectiveness and student morale are enhanced with a full and hearty integration of technology. For example, when asked to supervise the Fluids Lab one quarter, he created a full series of training videos to guide the students through each day’s lab activity. He then freely distributed the videos to faculty colleagues who have implemented them every quarter since. When asked to take over the Basic Measurements course this year, he decided to completely abandon the traditional instructional format. Rather, he created videos and interactive pre-class assignments for the students that would entirely replace the conventional lectures. Then during each class period, the students, working in small groups, advanced at their own pace through worksheet-based hands-on activities, while Niel circulated among the tables providing support and capitalizing on personal teachable moments. Niel confidentially asserted that no student ever fell asleep in that 8am class. Watch Niel and his students have a teachable moment in a reduced gravity space flight where they evaluated the performance of a scientific instrument.  You gotta love it! As you can tell, Niel is a very special individual – and there is much more to him than can be told here.  He cares deeply about his profession, his colleagues, his students, his church, and most importantly, his family.  Niel and his wife Julie have four children.  With a very busy work environment, Niel admits that his children Nan 10, Wesley 8, Mallie 5, and Simon 3, are his secret weapons to relieving the stresses of work.  He said that he first discovered this on the day that he taught Wesley to shoot rubber bands from his fingers. Niel uses his lessons from his family to provide perhaps the most important piece of advice to his students and colleagues. He tells them “Your profession may bring you honor and glory, but nobody in your profession really loves you. You are nobody’s hero at work. Go home to your wife. Go home to your children. Be a dad. Be a hero.” Niel Crews is a real hero at home, and I know that many consider him a hero at Louisiana Tech.  We are most fortunate to have him at Tech creating unparalleled opportunities in learning, discovery and service for our students and colleagues.