About MRS

T. John Balk, University of Kentucky

Candidate for Board of Directors

John BalkJohn Balk is a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Kentucky (UK), in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. Since Fall 2018, he has served as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the UK College of Engineering. He is also Director of the Electron Microscopy Center, which annually serves over 100 research groups from seven colleges across the university. Balk received his BS degree in 1995 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he double-majored in mechanical engineering and materials science & engineering. He received MS and PhD degrees in materials science and engineering from The Johns Hopkins University, in 1997 and 2000, respectively. Before coming to UK, he was a staff scientist at the Max-Planck-Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart, Germany, where he also completed two years of post-doctoral work. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and has maintained continuous licensure since 2009.

Balk has been active in MRS since graduate school, having attended his first MRS meeting in Fall 1996. Since then, Balk has been a symposium organizer three times: Linking Length Scales in the Mechanical Behavior of Materials (2005 Spring); Electron Microscopy Across Hard and Soft Materials (2006 Fall); Nano- and Microscale Materials: Mechanical Properties and Behavior Under Extreme Environments (2008 Fall). He served as a volume organizer for topical issues appearing in 2010. Balk has worked on several MRS committees and is currently chair of the Tutorial Review Group for MRS meetings. During 2017 and 2018, Balk served as chair of the Editors Subcommittee, which supports the society’s efforts throughout its portfolio of publications. Balk has participated in four MRS delegations for Congressional Visits Day, and he was one of the five meeting chairs for the 2015 MRS Fall Meeting.

Balk is also active in other professional societies (primarily TMS and ASM International) and meetings. He was elected by his research community to chair the 2012 Gordon Research Conference on Thin Film and Small-Scale Mechanical Behavior. From 2005 to 2018, Balk served as faculty advisor to the Material Advantage undergraduate chapter at UK. In 2007, he was awarded the Bradley Stoughton Award for Young Teachers from ASM International, and in 2009 he received the UK Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching. In the past 14 years, he has received the Outstanding Materials Engineering Teacher Award 10 times. In 2017, Balk was selected to represent UK for the Southeastern Conference’s Faculty Achievement Award. Within UK MSE, Balk served as Director of Undergraduate Studies from 2011 to 2018.

The Balk research group works to understand structure-property relationships in the behavior of metals, alloys and electronic materials, primarily systems that allow the study of size effects related to mechanical properties. His group explores the deformation mechanisms that operate in nanoporous metals and alloys, and he has worked in this area since coming to UK. Balk and his students were the first to measure tensile properties of nanoporous gold, using a home-built mechanical testing system that enabled unprecedented precision in mechanical analysis of this material. Balk was honored to receive a CAREER award from NSF in 2008, which supported this work.

His research also focuses on materials issues related to the processing and operation of thermionic dispenser cathodes, which are high-emission electron sources for radar and communication systems. More recently, his group has begun working (with recent funding from DOE) on combinatorial approaches to the development, characterization and testing of high entropy alloys, which represent a novel class of emerging materials for high-temperature structural applications. Characterization of the structure and properties of advanced materials is the cross-cutting aspect of his research program.

Candidate's Statement

MRS has been a wonderful home during my scientific career, and I am excited about the opportunity for additional service to the society and its members. People who have worked with MRS understand the outstanding opportunities that MRS affords its members to contribute to and influence the society, and also the strong and capable support provided by MRS professional staff. I see several ways I can help the society’s mission to promote communication for the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research and technology.

MRS meetings have grown substantially in both scope and attendance, and they remain vital hubs for materials researchers to interact with colleagues and to enhance their own careers. While already highly successful, the meetings (and other MRS activities) will always need to innovate. I would work with the MRS Board’s Planning Committee and External Relations Committee to strengthen MRS as the natural and first home for materials researchers, within traditional MSE fields as well as chemistry, physics and other fields that address materials science and engineering. The interdisciplinarity of materials research and the ubiquity of materials issues represent core strengths of our profession, but also necessitate active work to maintain a visible materials identity. MRS should occupy the primary leadership role in materials research.

A key way in which the society can strengthen and grow its reach is in publications. This requires vigilant work for maintaining the strong aspects of the publications portfolio while also improving in other key areas. My experience as Chair of the Editors Subcommittee has made me more aware of the opportunities and challenges related to MRS publications, and I am interested in focusing on this area, by working with Communications as an MRS board member.

An especially important area of focus in the coming years is more active engagement with industry. I have my own interest in this area, based on positive outcomes from industry work that has benefited both research and education, and am interested in strengthening the society’s efforts here. More broadly, fortifying connections to industry will benefit MRS members and will help address some of the practical shifts in priorities and funding for materials research. This is not to say that MRS should soften its commitment to fundamental scientific research, but rather that it can grow further by better engaging industry in support of MRS strategic objectives.