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Dr. Bob Hocken Retires

Date Published: June 30, 2014

Dr. Bob Hocken, one of the founding fathers of engineering and scientific research at UNC Charlotte, a distinguished professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science, the director of the Center for Precision Metrology, and an award-winning teacher, retires today, June 30, 2014.

From his position as a physicist in the Dimensional Technology Section at the National Bureau of Standards (now is the National Institute of Standards and Technology), Dr. Hocken came to UNC Charlotte in 1988 as the Norvin Kennedy Dickerson Jr., Distinguished Professor of Precision Engineering.

Speaking at Dr. Hocken’s retirement reception, Lee College of Engineering Dean Bob Johnson said Dr. Hocken was a key player in launching UNC Charlotte’s engineering research program.

“Bob facilitated the creation of the Center for Precision Metrology and is well-known internationally as the ‘grandfather’ of metrology,” Dr. Johnson said. “The educational and research programs he built are widely known and recognized for their excellence in the areas of design, manufacturing, processes and controls relating to precision metrology. It is also important to mention that Bob spearheaded the doctoral program at the university and mentored the first four Ph.D. students and the first post-docs.”

Some of Dr. Hocken’s research contributions to precision engineering and metrology include pioneering work in error modeling, error mapping and software correction of coordinate measuring machines and machine tools. He made major contributions to the large-scale metrology of liquid natural gas container ships. He led the design and construction of a precise polarimeter for measurements of sugar concentration, an interferometer for measuring long-term dimensional stability of beryllium, and the original tracking interferometer system commonly known today as a laser tracker.

In his comments at the retirement reception, Dr. Scott Smith, chairman of Mechanical Engineering and a Precision Metrology researcher, listed some of Dr. Hocken’s “amazing” achievements including:

  • Transforming metrology in the U.S. and in the world.
  • Creating the field of software error correction for coordinate measuring machines and machine tools.
  • Developing machines that could measure dimensions on the scale of atoms.
  • Being one of only 66 people ever to be awarded the Taylor Medal from CIRP (the International Academy for Production Engineering) and chairing the CIRP Scientific and Technical Committees Q, and S and P, and serving as president of CIRP.
  • Being on the Board of Directors, serving as president and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Precision Engineering.
  • Winning a Silver Medal and a Gold Medal from the Department of Commerce, four IR 100 Awards (these are the “Oscars of Innovation” ), a NBS Applied Science Award and a Presidential Executive Award.
  • Winning American Society for Mechanical Engineers recognitions including the Ennor medal for contributions to manufacturing, the Dedicated Service Award, the Blackall Award, and a certificate of recognition for ASME Codes and Standards.
  • Being awarded the F.W. Taylor International Research Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and being a member of its inaugural class of Fellows.

“All of these things are amazing in their own right,” Dr. Smith said, “but what is even more amazing is the positive impact Bob has had and continues to have on the lives and careers of the thousands upon thousands of undergraduate students who have passed through his classes. And the positive impact he has had, and continues to have, on the hundreds and hundreds of graduate students, faculty (myself included), staff, guest researchers and friends who flowed through the Center for Precision Metrology. This is truly amazing.”

As a teacher, Dr. Hocken supervised more than 33 Ph.D. and master’s student theses, and won the university’s prestigious Harshini V. de Silva Graduate Mentoring Award in 2006.

As the director of precision metrology, Dr. Hocken helped establish the program as a National Science Foundation “Center”. He also built a successful affiliates program, in which outside companies make an annual contribution in order to be part of the center’s research efforts.

As a researcher, Dr. Hocken has been the principal investigator for more than $14 million in externally funded projects. He has authored more than 80 publications including journal reports, featured articles, and proceedings including invited lectures and presentations.

One of Dr. Hocken’s favorite tasks at the university was acting as advisor for Mini-Baja team, which he did for 15 years. The Mini-Baja is a car, completely designed and built by students, that has to run over hills and trails, through mud, and sometime even across water. The UNC Charlotte team has always had an advantage with Bob as its advisor, because not only is he an expert in mechanical design, but he also owns a farm where the team was able to practice. And it is to this farm that Bob is now retiring.