Faculty Member Charles Harman Dies

First MEMS Faculty Member with Ph.D.

Charles Morgan Harman, Ph.D., passed away Aug. 7, in New Bern, N.C. He was 83.

Harman joined the engineering faculty at Duke University in 1961 when the graduate program in the School of Engineering was still in its infancy. In fact, he was the first faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering to have a doctoral degree.

He retired from Duke 43 years later after teaching, mentoring and building the graduate program of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences to its current status.

A native of Canonsburg, Penn., Harman was a U.S. Navy veteran, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, his master’s degree from the University of North Dakota, and his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin. At the time, Wisconsin was one of the few universities in the U.S. offering Ph.D. degrees in engineering.

“Charlie trained at one of the foremost schools in thermodynamics,” said fellow Duke faculty member Adrian Bejan, a close friend of Harman since his arrival at Duke in 1984. “Wisconsin was famous for thermodynamics, and Charlie truly loved everything about thermodynamics. He loved teaching it, and his passion was evident in the classroom. He also insisted that it be carried out correctly.

“He and I became close because of our love of thermodynamics and desire to protect it and pass it on to our students,” Bejan continued. “He was however, first of all a gentle man, a great teacher whose students loved him. He put our Ph.D. program on the map – all the way from selecting students to making sure they had whatever they needed to succeed.”

According to fellow faculty member and long-time friend Hadley Cocks, Harman touched the lives of everyone in the department.

“He was a wise adviser to all – from undergrads to graduate students, to faculty members and staff,” Cocks said. “Even after he retired, people sought his guidance and opinions. He was one whose advice was sought because it was always helpful, honest and sincere.”

“Charlie was key to transforming the graduate program,” added Earl Dowell, current chairman of the department, which he joined in 1983. “Duke didn’t really start offering Ph.D.s in engineering until after 1957 with the launch of (Russian satellite) Sputnik. Then the flood gates for graduate-level scientists opened. Charlie did a terrific job in making the change at Duke from a primarily undergraduate and masters-level program to the current Ph.D. level.”

The evidence of Harman’s first research projects from this era can still be found in Duke Forest. In the mid-1960s, then President Lyndon Johnson had a keen interest in the use of underground pneumatic tube systems to transport people and materiel. Universities across the country received grants to conduct this research. Harman was one such recipient.

“Out in Duke Forest, he had constructed a 1,000-foot steel tube, about one foot wide, to conduct experiments with the help of some of the department’s first graduate students,” Cocks said. “He was able to generate transport speeds of up to about 200 miles per hour. We later collaborated on a paper using the same principles for application as a vertical first stage in rocket launching.”

According to his wishes, there will be no memorial service. Memorials may be made to the Duke University Chapel (gifts2duke@duke.edu) or Duke University Chapel Box 90974 Durham, NC 27708-0974.

Harman is survived by his daughter, Ruth Harman Todd, of Rock Hill, S.C.; sons, Charles M. Harman, Jr. and wife Stephania, of New Bern, N.C.; Samuel S. “Sam” Harman and wife Suzanne, of Marietta, Georgia; his grandchildren, Rosemary Nations Alexander and husband Tripp, Morgan Lynn Harman, Matthew Harman, Kathryn Harman, and Rebecca Harman.

He also leaves behind his devoted caregiver Cynthia Hard and his faithful bulldog “Brutus.”