Meet the First Lady

Mary Helen McCay

Mary Helen McCay, Ph.D.

Mary Helen McCay (PhD., Metallurgical Engineering, University of Florida, 1973) is University Research Professor, Director of Florida Tech’s National Center for Hydrogen Research (NCHR), and Founding President of Florida Tech’s National Academy of Inventors Local Chapter. Dr. McCay was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame in 2017.

She has published more than 130 technical articles; serves as reviewer on 8 peer-reviewed journals; and holds 24 patents, 22 for laser-induced-surface improvement (LISI) and its applications.  

Dr. McCay leads an interdisciplinary team of NCHR researchers focused on providing innovative solutions to the renewable energy sector. Since joining Florida Tech in 2003, Dr. McCay has generated over $4.5M in funding for the NHRC, partnering with Siemens Energy to build a state-of-the-art thermal spray and high heat-flux laboratory. Her research is directed towards laser-produced materials for hydrogen fuel cell catalysts, sensors and storage mediums. Together with the University of Central Florida, Dr. McCay and other Florida Tech faculty developed an interdisciplinary hydrogen and fuel cell technology academic program, helping to create the next generation of renewable energy employees.

Prior to joining Florida Tech, Dr. McCay was Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Chair of the Center for Laser Applications, and Adjunct Professor of Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI). There, Dr. McCay conceived the idea of using LISI-generated, permanent markings to track surgical instruments. Today, Censis, a University of Tennessee start-up company provides instrument-level tracking systems that increase patient safety and improve clinical outcomes in approximately 350 US medical facilities. Together with her co-inventors, Dr. McCay received the American Museum of Science and Energy Award for Technical Achievement, and she was awarded the UT Wheeley Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for the LISI innovations and the Chancellor’s Award for Creativity in Research at the University of Tennessee. 

Dr. McCay was a Payload Specialist Astronaut (alternate) for NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger Flight Spacelab-3 mission. A Principal Investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for almost 20 years, she studied the influence of microgravity of single crystal formation and conducted failure analyses of space vehicle materials. She was PI on a Microgravity Laboratory I flight experiment, three other flight experiments and received the NASA Scientific Achievement Medal for her work.

Professor, engineer, inventor and astronaut, Dr. McCay is committed to women in STEM education. Her outreach programs at Florida Tech include K-12 Girls in Science Summer Camp; networking opportunities for freshmen and sophomore women students and Florida Tech women faculty; and the Women in STEM webpage highlighting the accomplishments of Florida Tech’s women alum. She is currently championing the establishment of Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) internship program at Florida Tech.