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NEWS | March 10, 2010

Dr. Kathryn Wahl is elected Fellow of STLE

By Donna McKinney

Dr. Kathryn J. Wahl, Head of the Molecular Interfaces and Tribology Section at the Naval Research Laboratory was elected Fellow of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). STLE Fellow members are persons of outstanding personal achievement in the field of lubrication, have 20 years of active practice in the science and/or engineering profession, and have been a Member of the Society for ten years. Elevation to the grade of fellow is made only on the nomination by the Committee on Fellows and must be approved by the STLE Board of Directors.

The candidates for STLE Fellow must have made outstanding and recognized contributions to the sciences or engineering in the field of lubrication in one of the following categories: (1) administration, (2) research, or (3) teaching. These attainments must be beyond those normally expected of the average scientist or engineer in lubrication. He/She should be recognized as an outstanding authority in a particular field of lubrication, as shown by his/her patents, books or articles published, or papers presented, or because he/she has been responsible for nationally known improvements in the field.

In nominating Wahl for the Fellow recognition, Professor Thierry Blanchet of Renssalear Polytechnic Institute wrote,

Throughout the past two decades, Dr. Kathryn J. Wahl has made many outstanding and recognized tribological research contributions, most notably towards the fundamental understanding of solid-lubricating and hard wear resistant coatings. At the Naval Research Laboratory, Dr. Wahl has pioneered the in situ characterization of the sliding interface within contacts of a variety of coatings by techniques including optical microscopy, interference fringe measurement, and Raman spectroscopy, enabling the coupled observation of third-body transfer film or wear particle presence with resulting frictional behavior. Using such novel triboscopic instruments, Dr. Wahl has been able to reveal the strong environmental dependences of the frictional behavior of prominent tribological coatings such as MoS2. ... Dr. Wahl was similarly among the early investigators to apply tip-based atomic scale microscopy towards the emerging field of nanotribology, within which her continued efforts include the assessment of long-standing fundamental contact mechanics theory by state-of-the-art nanocontact experimentation.

Wahl received a bachelor's degree in Physics and Mathematics from St. Olaf College in 1987, and a doctorate in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University in 1992. She came to the NRL as a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow in the Tribology Section of the Chemistry Division and studied friction, wear and interfacial film formation of model solid lubricant coatings. Since joining the research staff at NRL in 1995, her research has focused on fundamental physics and chemistry of sliding and adhesive interfaces, for contacts ranging from macroscopic to nanometer-scale. All of these studies have pointed to the importance of interfacial films and their chemistry, rheology, and mechanics. In 2008 she became Head of the Molecular Interfaces and Tribology Section.

Wahl received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 2008 and the NRL Chemistry Division Young Investigator Award in 1997. She served as interim Program Officer at the Office of Naval Research in Solid State & Materials Chemistry in 2002. Dr. Wahl was the 2008 Chair of the Tribology Gordon Research Conference, the Program Chair for the International Conference of Metallurgical Coatings and Thin-Films (ICMC-TF) in 2009, and Program Chair for the International Joint Tribology Conference (IJTC) in 2009. She is on the advisory panel for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Züich) Department of Materials. As a Trustee of the American Vacuum Society (AVS), she is a member of the AVS' award selection committee. She co-edited the focus issue of the MRS Society's monthly publication, the Materials Research Bulletin, on In Situ Tribology. She has served on the Editorial Advisory Board of Review of Scientific Instruments, and currently serves on the Editorial Boards of Tribology Letters, Wear, and the Journal of Physics D. In addition to being an STLE Fellow, she is an American Vacuum Society Fellow, and member of the Materials Research Society and American Chemical Society.

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