Type of Memorial


In Memoriam

Thompson, Donald O.


East of the Applied Science Complex II main entrance

Plaque Text


Donald O. Thompson was a brilliant scientist, a powerful leader and a kind friend to the team he valued and worked with. He came to Iowa State in 1979 from the Rockwell International Science Center. In 1973, while at Rockwell, Don initiated and led a DARPA/AFML interdisciplinary research program in quantitative nondestructive evaluation (NDE). This DARPA/AFML program reflected a vision of Don's to turn the field of nondestructive testing (NDT), which is used in a wide variety of industries to guarantee the safety and reliability of structures and systems, from an emphasis on qualitative testing to one of quantitative evaluation, based on sound scientific and engineering principles. In the 1970s the DARPA/AFML program held an annual review at which the program participants reported on their research. These results were then published as an Air Force report "Proceedings of the ARPA/AFML Review of Progress in Quantitative NDE." In 1980, while at ISU, Don broadened this annual review to be a conference for all those interested in NDE research, and in 1981 the first "Review of Progress in Quantitative NDE" volume was published. Since then this conference has grown to be the premier meeting for the NDE field and is attended annually by over 300 participants from around the world. Don was deservedly very proud of being the founder of this meeting and was able to attend the 40th anniversary of the QNDE conference in Baltimore, MD, less than a week before his death. Don believed that to fully develop quantitative NDE required being in a university setting, which led to his arrival at Iowa State. This also resulted in Don coming back to his Iowa roots since he was born in Clear Lake, Iowa and received his advanced degrees from the University of Iowa. In 1985 Don led the founding of the Center for NDE at ISU, an NSF Industry /University Cooperative Research Center, a Center that now is a leading NDE Center in the country and the world. Don served as Center Director from 1985-1997, during which a wide variety of major research programs were conducted including most notably the FAA Center for Aviation Systems Reliability and the Engine Titanium Consortium (1990-Present). The Engine Titanium Consortium in particular developed an improved ultrasonic inspection system for engine titanium components to detect the types of flaws that led to the crash of a DC-10 at Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. Don also led in the development of the World Federation of NDE Centers, an organization devoted to world-wide cooperation in the NDE field. Don was very active in promoting NDE education, including the initiation of the first undergraduate engineering minor in NDE in the nation at ISU in 1994 and the development of NSF-funded cooperative engineering education with Community Colleges to improve the articulation between 2-year and 4-year programs and to improve the visibility of NDE as a career option. These educational efforts led to the development of a web site www.ndt-ed.org, which is a comprehensive source of information for NDE education that today is heavily used on a worldwide basis. As a recognition of his fundamental contributions to the field quantitative NDE, Don was elected to both the U.S. Academy of Engineering and to the Indian National Academy of Engineering. Don was also an Anston Marston Distinguished Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.