By Ben Murray

This week, we sat down with Dr. Bill Jordan, the Department Chair for Baylor’s Mechanical Engineering program.  For the last few years, Dr. Jordan has been conducting some fascinating research in an area of study that is somewhat unexpected when one thinks of engineering.  He and his students are researching the potential uses and applications of materials derived from banana plants.  Though this may sound like a random avenue of work, the idea for the project actually came from one of Dr. Jordan’s greatest passions: mission work.

Jordan explains that the opportunity to combine his faith and occupation was one of the largest deciding factors in pulling him away from his former position at Louisiana Tech University.  Once at Baylor, Jordan began leading engineering students on trips to foreign countries.  He has been to Haiti, Kenya and Rawanda multiple times.  During his trips there, Jordan realized that many communities had resources that were being under-utilized.  Inspired by former Baylor professor Walter Bradley’s work with coconuts, it occurred to him that banana plants could have the potential for a multitude of uses.  Although the study is still in its infancy (they’re currently working on the characterization of the properties in banana fibers), Jordan has had many students take the project in directions that were previously unforeseen.  Students have looked at utilizing banana fibers for adobe bricks and water filtration systems along with the plant’s primary potential use in reinforced plastics.  Jordan explains that in the auto industry, for instance, companies are looking go more green.  It is possible that banana fibers could be used in making car panels and other parts.  Although rural communities such as those in Rawanda do not have the means of creating these products, Jordan’s hope is that people can earn money by separating the fibers from the plants and selling them.  The ultimate goal is to create a market for people in the developing world and to help them profit from materials that they would usually throw away.

A native Coloradoan, Dr. Jordan is an avid Broncos fan and Baylor sports supporter.  He enjoys travel and is excited to be journeying to The Azores next month for the very first conference solely dedicated to natural fiber composites.  It is always exciting to hear about the unique ways in which Baylor educators and students are helping to change the world.  We’re very grateful for Dr. Jordan’s time and look forward to hearing more about future developments in the project.