David P. Harper, Ph.D.

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Associate Professor
  Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries
  The Center for Renewable Carbon

Office: 108 CRC(a) -- MAST
Phone: (865) 946-1121
Email: dharper4@tennessee.edu

Focus: Forest products

  • Material interfaces
  • Renewable materials
  • Engineering mechanics
  • Fall 2009 Assisted in teaching First Years Studies 129 course titled “Sustainability: The Final Frontier?”
  • FWF 590. 2004. Composites from Renewable Resources. Co-Instructed

Biographical sketch

Dr. David Harper is an Assistant Professor with a research appointment in the Tennessee Agriculture Experiment Station. He has been an active member of the Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries faculty since 2004. Dr. Harper received a B.A. in Physics from West Virginia University before transferring to Washington State University in 1996. He then received a M.S. in Civil Engineering in 1998 where his thesis work focused on monitoring the quality and cure kinetics of isocyanate wood adhesives in situ.
Dr. Harper went on to receive his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Washington State University in 2003. His dissertation work examined the role of the wood-polymer interface in the mechanical performance of wood-plastic composites. This research was conducted under a contract with the Office of Naval Research to replace aging waterfront pier structures with environmentally benign composites. In 2003, he conducted post-doctoral research at the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI. His responsibilities included producing products from small diameter timber and forest debris. The project was designed to reduce the fuels in western forests while adding value to what is considered a waste product.
Currently, Dr. Harper’s work focuses on developing high value products to serve as revenue streams for an integrated biorefinery and the forest products industry. Much of his research focuses on improving the interaction of lignin and cellulosics with polymer matrices and adhesives. Improving the interaction of natural fibers with matrices improves the mechanical, physical, and environmental performance of composite materials. Strategies to accomplish his goals include using copolymers as coupling agents, developing new copolymers with controlled chain architectures to improve polymer interaction, chemical modification, and grafting of new chemical functional groups to natural polymers and nanofibers as well as the use of amphiphilic structures for self-assembly on cellulosic substrates. Dr. Harper is able to combine his background in composite and structural mechanics along with physics to characterize and improve composite performance. Part of his fundamental research in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is investigating the use of lignin from energy crops, such as grasses and trees, for the production of carbon fibers and a byproduct of a lignocellulosic biorefinery. This will provide a high value, high volume material that will be manufactured in rural areas and be used to improve our transportation infrastructure.

Recent Publications


Ph.D. Civil Engineering, Washington State University, 2003
M.S. Civil Engineering, Washington State University, 1998
B.A. Physics, West Virginia University, 1995