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October 25, 2012

Obituary: John D. Metzger

MetzgerJohn D. Metzger, director of the nuclear engineering program in the Swanson School of Engineering and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, died suddenly Oct. 12, 2012, while in Atlanta on business. He was 59.

Metzger, a leading researcher in the field of nuclear engineering, helped build and develop the curriculum for Pitt’s nuclear engineering program, launched in 2007 as part of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. It is the first and only nuclear track in western Pennsylvania.

Gerald D. Holder, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering, said: “John was a great contributor to many programs in the School of Engineering. Together with Larry Foulke and Minking Chyu, he helped develop and build the nuclear program from the ground up. He was a terrific colleague, a great leader and a very genuine person.”

Metzger joined the Pitt faculty in 2007 as a part-time lecturer and became a full-time associate professor in 2010. Prior to working at Pitt, he served as a research associate professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1998-2005; a senior technical specialist for the Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Program at Northrop Grumman, 1991-98; a research engineer at the Westinghouse Savannah River Company, 1990-91, and a staff member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1984-90.

He earned his BS in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1975, his MS in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois in 1977, and his PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of New Mexico in 1989.

His research focused on nuclear power and propulsion system designs, analysis and modeling, and thermal-hydraulic designs. He obtained substantial grant funding in the area of nuclear engineering for the department. In addition, he helped to secure funding supporting computer-modeling research into future generations of high-temperature reactors, a new radiation detection/measurement laboratory and a fellowship for a student pursuing a career in a nuclear field.

Chyu, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Leighton and Mary Orr Chair Professor, said: “One of John’s most significant and recent contributions, in my view, is his leadership and effort in bringing external funds, such as those from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy, to support our educational activities, as well as encouraging our junior faculty to pursue nuclear-related research. This effort has resulted in nearly $2.4 million in funding to Pitt this year.”

Metzger also was involved heavily in the planning of the annual nuclear symposium hosted by the Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy. Edward McCord, Thornburgh forum director, noted Metzger’s leadership in planning the symposium. “Lifting us every day with his characteristic inspiration and good cheer through months of work, John took the lead in organizing the program and recruiting key leadership for the Symposium on the Future of Nuclear Power that was held to resounding success by the Dick Thornburgh Forum on Law and Public Policy on March 27-28, 2012.”

McCord added: “All of us grieve with John’s family, for we have lost much more than a great colleague, we have lost a dear friend.”

In the classroom, Metzger devoted much energy to the success of his students. Foulke, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, described Metzger as a students’ teacher. “He not only had the real-world experience in the subject matter, but he delivered it with charm and humor. His evaluations were always the best.”

Metzger held several patents and was a member of numerous associations, including the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics and the National Heat Transfer Conference.

Among his honors were the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory Superior Performance Outstanding Teamwork Award in 2009, the Promising Inventor Award in 2003 from the Research Foundation for The State University of New York, and the Timely Award Plan in recognition of his ability to retrain for the support of flight science tasks in 1999. He also was inducted into the Wilson High School, West Lawn, Pa., Academic Hall of Fame in 2007.

He was the author of numerous articles in journals such as Nuclear Science & Technology, Positronics Research and Plus Ultra Technologies.

Metzger is survived by his mother, Lukrezia Metzger, and his children, Rachel, Matthew and Jennifer Metzger.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Swanson School of Engineering ( or the University of Tennessee Department of Engineering (

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 5

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