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Design Studies Professor Majid Sarmadi to retire after nearly 40 years

A man with short, gray hair wearing glasses, a white lab coat and a red tie writes on a whiteboard with a red dry erase marker.
Majid Sarmadi teaches during a DS 251: Textile Science course in Nancy Nicholas Hall on Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Bryce Richter/UW–Madison)

Professor Majid Sarmadi, who has served on the School of Human Ecology’s Design Studies faculty since 1986, will retire July 1 and become an emeritus professor.

A scientist and self-taught artist, Sarmadi received an engineering degree from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Jefferson) in 1980 and his PhD in textile science from Virginia Tech in 1986.

A letter written by the Design Studies department in a request for his emeritus status lauded Sarmadi as having made “significant contributions to the fields of textile science and plasma chemistry.” Throughout his time with Human Ecology and the university, Sarmadi served as the department chair of Design Studies, as a UW faculty senator and on many department, school and university committees.

The major theme of Sarmadi’s research has been sustainability: promoting human and environmental well-being by eliminating and reducing dangerous chemicals from textile and polymer manufacturing. His research interests have included chemical properties and structures of textile fibers, plasma modifications of materials, recycling of polymeric materials, dyeing, finishing, purification of textile manufacturing wastewater and identification of historic dyes.

“As a human ecologist, I was always human-centered,” Sarmadi says. “Human well-being, whether it be workers in the factory or users of the product, was my main goal always.”

A man with short, dark hair wearing glasses, a white shirt, dark jacket and patterned red tie looks off camera.
Majid Sarmadi in 2002.

He authored and co-authored more than 75 scientific papers, and he holds three patents in plasma chemistry of polymeric materials and plasma technology. Two of the patents he co-authored were purchased by Intel from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

Even so, when asked what he’s most proud of, the first thing Sarmadi mentions is the graduate and PhD students he’s worked with, many of whom are now accomplished faculty and researchers.

In 2018, Sarmadi received the prestigious Van Hise Outreach Teaching Award for his excellent and innovative teaching. Also in 2018, he received an award citation from the Wisconsin State Assembly for “novel teaching methods that have impacted diverse learners.”

“Not only was he an excellent educator at the university level, but also, he has played a major role in outreach teaching of young learners from primarily underserved students in middle school and high school for the past 24 years,” the emeritus letter says.

Sarmadi received the Lane DeWalt Outstanding Service Award from UW–Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement in 2022. Cited in the award letter is his work for PEOPLE, including creating a “very innovative” crime scene investigation (CSI) workshop, which has taught hundreds of students about forensics, law and criminal justice. His work for the program included, at its founding, driving to Milwaukee to convince public school administrators that participating in the program was worthwhile.

Sarmadi is the recipient of numerous other awards, including “Hero of UW-Madison,” awarded by the University of Wisconsin System in 2020 for his work on personal protective equipment (PPE) for Wisconsin and Illinois manufacturers, and for his contribution through Engineers Without Borders to a Yemeni manufacturer for a new facility to produce PPE to protect against COVID-19.

Three men, two standing and one seated, are pictured behind yellow crime scene tape in the foreground.
Majid Sarmadi, center, leads PEOPLE’s crime scene investigation (CSI) workshop in Nancy Nicholas Hall on June 22, 2023. At right, seated, is Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, who was the fake crime’s “victim.”

While at the university, Sarmadi taught many Human Ecology undergraduate and graduate courses, some of them cross-listed by the Forestry & Wildlife Ecology department. He directed the Textile Science specialization graduate degree in the Design Studies program, as well as graduate students in Forestry and the Materials Science & Engineering department. He was also a faculty affiliate of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

The emeritus letter says that he “has been, in a true sense, a public professor”: beyond conducting, publishing and presenting important research, “he extended his discoveries and new scientific knowledge in applied outreach teaching.”

Sarmadi says this was always an important pursuit of his.

“I think, as a person that has been privileged to work at this university and in this country, I had to give back, and I wanted to give back in any shape and form that I could,” Sarmadi says. “To me, learning is a celebration of life — it signifies hope, hope for a better future. Therefore, I feel that I am a master of ceremonies for that celebration.”

He worked as a consultant to the Los Angeles Community College District, which serves almost 230,000 students. The sustainable carpet specifications Sarmadi wrote for LACCD are “one of his most important contributions to the textile industry in the U.S., and the world as a whole,” the emeritus letter says. Sarmadi’s sustainable carpet project saved more than $40 million for the State of California on one contract alone. The project has received 16 different awards, including recognition from the governor of California, the California State Senate and State Assembly, the mayor of Los Angeles, the U.S. Senate and Congress.

Above all, though, Sarmadi stressed that he couldn’t have done a fraction of what he’s accomplished in his career by himself.

“Everyone has to get credit for anything that I have done. In order for somebody to be successful, we need a village of people, or an army of people, to help,” he says. “So, I want to thank everyone that was instrumental. If you say ‘Majid was successful,’ then I owe everyone else my gratitude.”