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70th Reunion
Tuesday, 6/11/2024

12:00 pm until 4:00 pm
Tavistock Country Club
Friends, children, spouses invited to help us celebrate our last reunion
Send $35 to Mark Sibley, 134 Cider Press Drive, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062 by June 1.
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2018 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

James Duncan

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James Duncan was a 1966 graduate of HMHS.  He received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University in 1971 and a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics from the Johns Hopkins University in 1973 and 1979, respectively. His dissertation produced a now famous experiment on wave breaking that has become central to understanding ocean acoustics and air-sea gas transfer.

During and immediately after his graduate studies, Jim worked at Hydronautics, Inc., starting as an Associate Research Scientist in 1973 and eventually becoming the Director of the Division of Applied Mechanics. In 1983, he left Hydronautics, Inc. to work at Flow Research Company as a Senior Research Scientist, and in 1987 he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland where he became a Full Professor in 1997.

Jim's research has covered a wide range of topics including the interaction of turbulent boundary layers, cavitation bubbles and breaking waves with compliant structures; steady and unsteady breaking waves; the effects of surfactants on breaking waves; and the analysis of optical flow in computer vision. He has published some 60 peer reviewed articles and his work has been cited over 2,800 times. His research has appeared in the two most highly regarded journals in the field, the Journal of Fluid Mechanics and the Physics of Fluids.  Two others (a rarity) were published in the prestigious Annual Reviews of Fluid Mechanics and another in Nature.

Jim became a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 1999. In support of his nomination for APS Fellow, Andreas Prosperetti, then Charles A. Miller Jr. Professor at the Johns Hopkins University, wrote“…Prof. Duncan’s work is of the highest caliber. …The experiments that he has conducted are beautiful and his results nothing less than stunning.” The Division of Fluid Dynamics of the APS holds a Gallery of Fluid Motion at its annual meeting each year in which participants display beautiful visual examples of fluid flow phenomena.

Jim has been the co-author of four winning entries, a unique accomplishment among all the hundreds of submitters over the 25 years of the Gallery’s existence. These winning entries have subsequently been published in the Physics of Fluids. One was later published in a book entitled Physics of the Twentieth Century by the APS and the American Institute of Physics. His colleague Professor Emeritus James Wallace summarized Jim’s scholarly reputation by saying, “…he is arguably the leading experimentalist doing hydrodynamic research in the world today.“ This was further affirmed when Professor Duncan was appointed Associate Editor of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, a position in which he handled all the manuscripts on hydrodynamics submitted to this, the field’s most outstanding journal. 

Jim was awarded the Poole and Kent Senior Faculty Teaching Award of the Clark School of Engineering in 2003. This award recognized his unusual commitment to and gift for effective teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In nominating him, Ken Kiger, a younger Mechanical Engineering faculty member, wrote, “…His contributions extend not just to the impact on the students he has instructed and mentored, but also to his colleagues as an example of what it means to be a dedicated and creative teacher.” In 2004 Jim was selected as a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at UMCP. In the context of this award nomination, one of Jim’s undergraduate students wrote, “…my reason for writing is my emphatic belief that [he] is more deserving of your award than any other professor of engineering I have encountered…his concern for students having a positive learning experience is overwhelming.
…He has made amazing contributions to undergraduate teaching, strives to develop innovative classroom techniques and materials, and undeniably motivates students to learn.” Another wrote, “... I feel grateful for his constant efforts, initiatives and endless patience to provide me with a …scientific education. I truly believe that his constant mentoring inside and outside the class room is one of the key aspects of my education and his efforts will be reflected in my future scientific career.”

His brilliance as a teacher was further acknowledged in his appointment as a Keystone Professor of the Clark School of Engineering in 2007, a distinction afforded to a very small group of the most effective and dedicated teachers in the School.  They are assigned to teach the introductory engineering courses in order to help entering students get off to the best possible start. Furthermore, in 2013, Jim was named a Wilson H. Elkins Professor an honor given to three or four faculty from all seven campuses of U. of Maryland, in recognition of all of his accomplishments.

Jim lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife, Jill Himmer.  Jill says that no discussion of Jim’s achievements would be complete without mentioning Jim’s three children, because it is they who have brought him the greatest joy and satisfaction.  While Jim has always jokingly said that he was trying to get his children to go into engineering, he couldn’t be prouder of older daughter Alexis Duncan, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Washington University in St. Louis (and mother of Jim’s two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Anna), son Andrew Duncan, a sound and music designer for Salesforce in San Francisco, and younger daughter Emma Duncan, a law student at the University of Maryland School of Law.  In the heartfelt nomination for this award, Emma wrote about her father, Jim, as a talented photographer and  pianist but most of all as a wonderful and devoted family man who filled the family home with music. 

Jim’s wife, children, and sister G. Ariel Duncan (HMHS ’64) are all extremely proud of Jim’s achievements and feel very fortunate to have him in their lives, and wish to congratulate Jim on this well-deserved award!

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