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Thompson, Bruce

Published onJul 30, 2021
Thompson, Bruce
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(July 18, 1941 – March 7, 2011)

Quick Facts

Bruce Thompson was a leading figure in nondestructive evaluation, and he left his mark on Iowa State University as an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in materials science and engineering and in aerospace engineering.


Thompson was born on July 18, 1941, in College Station, Texas.

Throughout his career, he was held in high regard for his work, including being named a member of the National Academy of Engineering and director of the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation at Iowa State University.

His future success was evident at an early age. Thompson attended Texas A&M Consolidated High school, where he was an astute student and took pride in his school by participating in a variety of extracurricular programs. After he graduated high school, Thompson attended Rice University, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in physics, and then he attended the esteemed Stanford University to receive his master’s degree in physics and a PhD in applied physics.

Thompson entered industry as technical staff at the North American Rockwell Science Center. Soon after he started, he began developing research in ultrasonics and become a household name in the field. His research led to his increasing interest in nondestructive evaluation (NDE), a method of testing material through the means of ultrasonics and x-rays without disturbing the material.

Thompson began to conduct more research with NDE and played an important part in the development of advanced quantitative NDE technology. Realizing his passion for NDE, he left his job to join the faculty at the Ames Laboratory where he held numerous research and administrative position. However, Thompson had a passion for NDE, so he went to work with a core group of Iowa State engineers dedicated to advancing the engineering science of NDE. This group eventually formed the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation (CDNE) on Iowa State’s campus.

His work in NDE soon gained him international recognition in the field. Thompson’s research included theories of elastic wave scattering for defects; theories and practices for NDE characterization of material properties; and development of theories and practices for determination of the probability of detection of “fatal” defects in structures by ultrasonic means. As he advanced these areas, he worked with many graduate, PhD and postdoctoral students, serving as their adviser and mentor.

Thompson used his expertise to help others through service in various groups, including the Review Panel on High-Level Liquid Waste Nondestructive Evaluation, the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and the Emerging Technology and Research Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

His work was recognized with many awards throughout his lifetime, such as the D.R. Boylan Eminent Faculty Award for Research, the Tutorial Citation Award, the Research Council Award for Sustained Excellence, and the Roy Sharp Prize.

He passed away March 7, 2011, at the age of 69. In 2008, Iowa State University honored Thompson by naming him and his wife two of 150 visionaries who helped build Iowa State.

Selected Sources

Obituary, College of Engineering News: https://news.engineering.iastate.edu/2011/03/08/leading-figure-in-nondestructive-evaluation-bruce-thompson-dies/

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