Dare to Defy: André McDonald, P.Eng. - discoverAPEGA

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Dare to Defy: André McDonald, P.Eng.

Dare to Defy. Dare to Differ. Dare to Dream.

For Dr. André McDonald, P.Eng., these words are more than just a motivational tag line on his email signature. They’re a philosophy that guides his work as a mechanical engineering professor and researcher at the University of Alberta.

He was inspired by the university’s former vision statement, Dare to Discover.

“Dare to Defy, for me, means going against the norm, because sometimes the norm is outdated and you have to stand up and push for calculated, educated change,” he explains.

Dare to Differ?

“Go against the grain sometimes,” encourages McDonald. “That’s what stimulates innovation. When people are different, they tend to create new ideas and create new things.”

And Dare to Dream?

“You must dream. Without a dream, how do you come up with ideas?”

McDonald has spent his career pushing the limits of innovation in the area of thermal spray and building science. Originally from New York, he completed his PhD in Toronto and arrived at the U of A in 2007. He quickly earned grants that helped the university establish a new Advanced Heat Transfer and Surface Technologies Laboratory.

In 2010, he was awarded APEGA’s Early Accomplishment Summit Award, nominated by his colleagues in recognition of his achievements.

“I was honoured and surprised to get the recognition from my colleagues,” he says. “It set the stage for me to continue building on that award.”

André McDonald, P.Eng., at the APEGA Summit Awards in 2010, receiving his Early Accomplishment Award from APEGA’s then-president Jim Beckett, P.Eng.

APEGA photo

Like his tag line suggests, McDonald has indeed dared to be different. In fact, he’s the only researcher in Alberta whose core focus is thermal spray coatings.

Simply put, he fabricates and tests materials that protect the surface of industrial equipment—things like pipelines and gas turbine engines—against wear, corrosion, and high-temperature degradation. He’s also researching functional coatings that can act as sensors or generate heat, helping surfaces shed water or resist ice build up, or even resist bacteria.

“For example, they can serve as heating elements for wind turbine blades and renewable energy systems, or heating systems for aircraft wings,” explains McDonald.

Developing and sharing this new knowledge is one of the biggest rewards of his job. So, too, is being a professor, and teaching future generations of professionals the keys for success.

“That motivates me tremendously. It’s a big responsibility—working with students, pushing their potential, and helping them hone and refine their skills.”

He’s also had the opportunity to continue his own learning journey, returning to class to earn a law degree. His focus remains on engineering, though, in which he continues to excel.

Among his contributions, he’s taken on leadership roles as president of the ASM Thermal Spray Society and as lead editor of the Journal of Thermal Spray Technology. In the last two years, he was named associate chair (research) in the U of A’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

His lab also continues to earn research funding to support and grow thermal spray coating technology development at the university. This has resulted in many national and international research collaborations in industries such as aerospace, pulp and paper, and energy.

“That for me is an accomplishment. What that does is it imports knowledge and opportunity into the province,” says McDonald.

He believes technical diversification holds immense opportunity for Alberta’s future growth.

“This is where professional engineers and geoscientists are going to make a tremendous, significant contribution—both those professionals working in industry, and those who will be doing the teaching and training.”


Dr. André McDonald, P.Eng. is a mechanical engineering professor and researcher at the University of Alberta.

Photo courtesy of Dr. André McDonald, P.Eng.