Chad Duke, PE, has performed a variety of roles during his 20-plus-year career at UAB, but none of them bigger than his current role as Director of the UAB Engineering and Innovative Technology Development (EITD) research group.

Chad Duke 320Duke took over as EITD’s second director following the retirement of longtime director Lee Moradi, Ph.D., earlier this year. In his new role, Duke plans to fulfill EITD’s current contracts—including its long-running projects of designing and maintaining cold-stowage products for use on the International Space Station (ISS)—while also leveraging the group’s expertise to embrace new opportunities.

“EITD’s work with NASA has long been a point of pride for the School of Engineering and for UAB,” said Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the School of Engineering. “Replacing the founding director of an organization is always a daunting task, but in this case, it makes sense to turn to someone who has spent his entire career as a part of the EITD team. I have no doubt that Chad Duke is the right choice to continue EITD’s success in the years ahead.”

Twenty Years of Preparation

A native of Ranburne, a small town in east Alabama, Duke earned an associate’s degree from Ayers State Technical College and completed all of his core curriculum at Gadsden State Community College before transferring to UAB, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 2000.

Barely two weeks after graduation, Duke started a job with the UAB Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering, which at that time was primarily concerned with the study of protein crystallography under the direction of UAB Optometry Professor (and former astronaut) Larry Delucas, O.D., Ph.D.

polarThis Polar unit is one of several cold-stowage products built by EITD engineers for use on the International Space Station. The units are used for everything from galley refrigerators to freezers capable of freezing scientific samples to as low as negative 95 degrees Celcius.In the years that followed, Duke worked in a variety of engineering roles as the group’s focus shifted from protein crystallography to designing and manufacturing thermal control systems including GLACIER, the first of several cold-stowage products designed by UAB engineers for use in space. Initially designed for use on Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) missions, UAB’s cold-stowage hardware was soon adapted for use on NASA’s new commercial cargo and crew vehicles developed by Space-X and Northrup Grumman that replaced the Shuttle for transporting both crew and cargo to and from the ISS.

As the NASA-related projects expanded, the CBSE engineering group evolved into EITD, and Duke’s responsibilities continued to grow under the mentorship of CBSE’s first-class senior engineers. In 2010, he moved into a managerial role as a Research Engineer and Systems Section Manager. In that position, he supervised a team of engineers responsible for system performance, integration and flight operations for UAB’s space-flight hardware.

Duke would later work as Mechanical Section Manager, Research Machine Shop Manager, and (most recently) Quality Assurance Manager, before a surprising meeting with Moradi in early 2022.

“I don’t think anyone saw it coming,” Duke said. “I was completely surprised when he told me he was going to retire. And then when he asked if I would be interested in replacing him as director, I was speechless. I asked if I could take a few days to think about it.”

Team First

The extra time, Duke says, wasn’t so much to consider the job or the expanded opportunities. Instead, he says he wanted to discuss the change with Tanya, his wife of 21 years, as well as his EITD colleagues whose total support he says was vital. “The strength of EITD has always been our teamwork,” he explained. “If the other engineers and support staff had any reservations at all about me being the new director, I didn’t want to do it.”

Lewis EITDEITD engineers provide around-the-clock monitoring of their products from their remote control operations center on the UAB campus. Once those concerns were answered to his satisfaction, Duke accepted the job and began a crash course on directing a multi-million-dollar operation. “I had gained a thorough understanding of the operations of the organization while working as the Quality Manager for several years,” he said. “I already knew the details of the engineering and fabrication processes through my experience managing the mechanical and systems sections, but I had never had to deal with budgets or contracts or any of the bigger picture aspects of running EITD. For that, I am working closely with our support staff to make sure everything stays on track.”

For the short term, keeping on track means continuing to build, maintain and monitor EITD’s cold-stowage equipment—which includes 15 systems currently on board the ISS. Those devices are constantly monitored from the EITD remote control center at UAB. The current contract for building and maintaining those devices runs through 2025.

But Duke says his new job is about much more than maintaining the status quo. With the ISS scheduled to be taken out of service in 2030, governments and private companies are already at work on what comes next, and Duke says EITD is positioning itself to continue to be a major player in those enterprises.

“There are plans for privately funded space stations that are in the early stages of development and additional commercial cargo vehicles are coming online in the next year. In addition to our low-earth orbit projects, new exploration programs for NASA are ramping up and we a pressing to be a part of these exciting new endeavors,” he said.

Two examples are the new HTV-X cargo transfer vehicle evolved from the H-II Transfer Vehicle being developed in Japan and NASA’s renewed focus on returning to the moon with the Artemis program. EITD recently sent two engineers to Japan to test its equipment on the new Japanese cargo vehicle. One of those engineers, Joe Moore, is designing and testing more robust electronics for use in the harsher environments outside of low-earth orbit, while engineer Jud Dunlap is analyzing current hardware for the higher launch loads of the newer vehicles.

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BioHorizons is a Birmingham company whose history is rooted in UAB. Today, thanks to a growing and successful co-op program, it appears that BioHorizons and UAB will continue to be linked far into the future.

The dental-implant company, which started as a spinoff of research from the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry, has hired more than a dozen UAB alumni and students over the past 28 years. More recently, though, its co-op program has begun to bring in current engineering undergraduates—creating a talent pipeline for students to get a head start in a growing industry.

“Hands-on experience has always been a key element of engineering education,” said Neil Adams, director of the Engineering Career Center. “The success of our program depends on strong co-op and intern partners, like BioHorizons, who offer quality experiences to our students so that they apply their engineering knowledge while also learning how to be a contributing part of a professional organization. We are proud of this continued partnership and look forward to supporting Blazer engineering co-ops at BioHorizons for many years to come.”

A Blazer Legacy

BioHorizons was started in 1995 by the late Martha Bidez, Ph.D., then a faculty member in the School of Engineering who would serve as the company’s first CEO before selling the company and returning to UAB in 2009. Over the years, the company has hired a number of UAB alumni, including several members of its leadership team (see sidebar).

In 2016, however, the company’s ties to UAB got a little closer when Ashley Boggs became the first UAB undergraduate to join the BioHorizons co-op program—a program that provides students the opportunity to work full-time at the company for three semesters, alternating with school. The experience is paid, and students work alongside engineers throughout their time at the company.

Boggs extended her co-op by working part-time at the company until she was hired full time after she graduated in 2018. Today, she is a Digital Dentistry Engineering Manager, and she credits her co-op experience for opening her eyes to possibilities she had never previously considered.

“I had a vague idea that I wanted to work with implants—like hips, knees, ankles—but I didn’t know anything about the dental-implant industry at all,” said Boggs. “During my sophomore year, I went to the Engineering Career Center and told them that I couldn’t keep sitting in class doing problems from a book. They told me about a local company called BioHorizons that was doing on-campus interviews.”

The interview changed Boggs’s personal career trajectory, but her story is not an unusual one. While the engineering curriculum prepares students for a wide variety of careers, it’s often that first on-the-job experience that opens eyes and doors to career opportunities in fields students may have never been aware of.

That was the case for UAB graduate Jonathan Gordon, another former co-op participant who now works as a packaging engineer for BioHorizons. “I started out on a pre-med track, but coming from a very small town to UAB was a big transition,” Gordon said. “I dropped the pre-med route pretty quickly and started looking for other options.”

Like Boggs, the Engineering Career Center helped connect Gordon with a co-op position at BioHorizons, and that, in turn, led to full-time employment. “I realized pretty quickly that I love this industry. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”

An Undergraduate Pipeline

Although Boggs was the first UAB student hired into BioHorizons' co-op program, she soon had company. Three other Blazers followed her into the program (Josh Moore, Karly Casey and Gordon), and all four stayed on to work full-time. That kind of retention is notable for an undergraduate experience that by its nature is often exploratory. 

“Since we started the co-op program about 10 years ago, we have had about 17-18 engineering students in our program—two of which have been in our regulatory department and the rest in research and development,” said Tom Lewis, BioHorizons manager of product engineering. “We feel that it has been very successful, and to date we have hired five as full-time employees.”

That transition from co-op to full-time employee makes sense when you consider the investment BioHorizons makes in students over a three-semester co-op. Each student must learn Quality System processes before getting down to work with tasks, such as design control, drawing release, and CAD modeling. “Each student is trained, but it takes hands-on involvement to learn all of these processes,” Lewis said. “It’s also helpful for students to experience how different departments work together for a common goal.”

In addition, students must learn industry standards and technologies in the medical device industry. “This takes longer,” Lewis said, “but over time they begin to understand the ‘whys’ behind the design of dental implants, restorative components and instruments. Although we have the expectation that co-ops produce for us, my hope is that when they look back they realize the value of their experience here, and as they move into their careers they have a head start in their understanding of engineering organizations."

“Co-op is both an investment by the company and a commitment by the student,” added Adams. “The depth of experience pays dividends in that co-op students are ready to contribute immediately at an organization after graduation.”


“I have been part of teams in which we have drawn and developed state of the art dental surgery kits that are slated to hit the market this year; I have managed drafting and conducting test plans to research the durability of implant designs; and, most importantly, I have been able to teach incoming co-ops the ins and outs of the company and guide them as they grow from a college student into true engineers.”
—Benjamin Pody, mechanical engineering student and 2nd-year co-op


Homegrown Talent

Lewis says the co-op program historically has drawn from several area universities, but he admits UAB students have one obvious advantage. “Since they are local, they already have living arrangements,” he said. “After completing the three co-op terms, students return to school to finish up and graduate.  With UAB being in town, when the opportunity was available several UAB students have stayed on and worked part-time until graduation.  The company knowledge they have has allowed them to be productive even on a part-time basis.”

While the growth of BioHorizons’ co-op program is exciting for current and future engineering students, UAB School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., says that is just one of the reasons UAB engineers should look at the BioHorizons story with pride.

“It’s not unusual for a promising startup to spin off from university research—in this case, arising from research in the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry,” said Holmes. “We often comment that these startups have the potential to revolutionize an industry. But in the case of BioHorizons, it has actually done that, and it continues to innovate and to grow. I am tremendously excited that our students are able to be a part of that continuing UAB success story.”

“At BioHorizons, we look forward to continuing our work with UAB in the future,” agreed Lewis. “We appreciate the relationship we have developed with the university that has served us well over the years.”


BioHorizons Senior Leadership

A glance at the BioHorizons team shows a number of UAB graduates among the senior leadership.

R. Steve Boggan, President and CEO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

J. Todd Strong, Executive VP and COO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Mike Mills, Executive VP and CFO

  •   B.S. from UAB Collat School of Business

Andrew Baroody, VP of Sales Operations

  •   B.A. in English from UAB

Juan Jaramillo, VP of Global Business Support

  •   UAB Graduate

Fred J. Molz, IV, VP of Research and Development

  •   M.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Elbert Jenkins II, VP of Information Technology

  •   MEng in Information Engineering Management from UAB
  •   MBA from the UAB Collat School of Business

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