Understanding Textiles and Knowing Yourself


The Jeff Bruner Lab Helps Jefferson Students Get to the Bottom of Things

In the Jeff Bruner Materials Characterization Laboratory, more than textiles are tested to find out if they have what it takes to do a certain job. Jefferson students have the chance to discover for themselves the qualities and behaviors of various materials, and they get to evaluate their own professional aspirations and passions in ways they can’t in books and classrooms.

“They start to self-identify as scientists and engineers,” observes Ron Kander, dean of the Kanbar College, because they’re doing the things scientists and engineers do. “Once you self-identify in a discipline, there’s a lot of data that shows you perform better.”

Lab director Janet Brady sees it happen as soon as students step into the space and start using the equipment. “You can see them become more immersed in their learning,” she says. “They’re relaxed, and they really take it in.”

Since 1976, a materials evaluation laboratory has been an important part of Jefferson’s hands-on approach to education and applied knowledge. A gift from alumnus Jeff Bruner ’73 supported a brand-new laboratory in the Kay and Harold Ronson Health and Applied Science Center, which opened in January 2020. Over the first year, several pieces of new, state-of-the-art equipment were installed, students used the facility for course exercises and research for capstone and industry-sponsored projects, and faculty highlighted Bruner Lab capabilities in grant proposals, which helped land major funding.

But it’s the lab’s power to switch on the light bulb above a student’s head that really impresses Brady. “You can talk about it, you can show them a picture,” she says, “but when they’re actually putting a piece of material on a machine, that really allows them to get that ‘Aha!’ moment.”

When Bruner was a student, his course was set when he learned that textile engineers could weave fabric to patch blood vessels or do almost anything else for that matter. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “I was hooked.”

The ‘Aha!’ discovery might be about textiles or it might be about who you are and where your future lies. The Bruner Lab does both.