New endowed chair at SMU Lyle School to support engineering in pursuit of entrepreneurism

Duncan MacFarlane, an engineer with a passion for ideas, is the first Bobby B. Lyle Chair in Entrepreneurship.

Duncan Macfarlane

DALLAS (SMU) – Duncan MacFarlane, a pioneering photonics engineer with a passion for ideas that become business opportunities, is the first person designated to hold SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship.

Watch the announcement of the Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship.

Watch the panel discussion.

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MacFarlane assumes the new position in the Lyle School of Engineering made possible by a financial commitment from SMU trustee and longtime benefactor Bobby B. Lyle ’67, for whom the school is named.  The chair’s “centennial” designation reflects a special naming opportunity made possible during SMU’s recent centennial celebration period, through which donors provided an endowment plus start-up operational funding to provide immediate support for the position.

The creation of the new chair and MacFarlane’s assumption of the position was celebrated Feb. 2 followed by a panel discussion hosted by Steven C. Currall, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. MacFarlane moderated the conversation with representatives from SMU’s seven schools as they share interdisciplinary strategies for advancing entrepreneurship.

“The creation of this new Centennial Chair, and naming Duncan MacFarlane as the chairholder, comes at a time when SMU is gaining well-deserved recognition as a place where good ideas are nurtured to become good business,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Entrepreneurship education has been important for many years at SMU, and Bobby Lyle has been its champion through both the Cox School of Business and the Lyle School of Engineering.”

MacFarlane plans to work across disciplines, taking advantage of existing programs in other schools and opportunities for collaboration.

“Just last summer, Forbes magazine named SMU as one of the most entrepreneurial research universities in the country, and Dr. MacFarlane intends to work with faculty and students across the University to capitalize on that momentum,” said Currall, who joined SMU Jan. 1. “As Provost, you can expect me to be an enthusiastic supporter of the cross-campus initiatives Dr. MacFarlane is planning.”

"SMU and the Lyle School aim to have an impact in Dallas and across the region by engaging the community in the study and practice of entrepreneurship – the activity that takes innovative ideas from our faculty, staff, and students and makes them a reality,” said Lyle School Dean Marc Christensen.  "We are so glad to have Duncan Macfarlane, a professor, innovator and entrepreneur, driving these activities across campus."

The formation of new enterprises and ventures, particularly those that leverage technology, can be a powerful force for world change, MacFarlane said.

“Making it easier for students, faculty and staff across campus to transition their ideas into high-tech companies is the motivation behind engineering entrepreneurship at Lyle. The first meaningful milestone for a new venture is to make that first sale of a new product, and I want to help people across our entire campus understand and use technology to turn their ideas into products.”

MacFarlane said he sees great potential for collaboration with The Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship in the Cox School of Business, one of the first university-based entrepreneurship centers in the country when it was founded in 1970. Entrepreneurship is taught at Cox through 17 graduate courses, five undergraduate courses and a variety of special programs and business plan competitions. The Cox School’s Caruth Institute is supported by the Linda A. and Kenneth R. Morris Endowed Directorship, a position held by Jerry F. White.

The Dedman School of Law’s Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation, as well as Dedman’s patent law, trademark and small business clinics, also provide broad opportunities for shared work, MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane’s position brings to three the number of entrepreneurial positions Lyle has endowed in the engineering school, preceded by the Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Professorship of Leadership and Global Entrepreneurship, endowed in 2009, and the Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Professorship of Engineering Innovation, endowed in 2010 and held by Christensen.  In addition, Lyle funded an Endowed Professorship in Entrepreneurial Studies in the Cox School of Business in 2006.  That Professorship is held by Dr. Gordon Walker.  That same year, he established the C. Jackson Grayson Endowed MBA Scholarship in Entrepreneurial Studies in honor of the former dean of the School of Business.

 “When Dr. MacFarlane joined the faculty of the Lyle School of Engineering last summer, he immediately demonstrated his enthusiasm for helping students and faculty members take their innovative ideas to the next level,” Lyle said.  “His experience, curiosity and creativity have prepared him to recognize opportunities during the innovation process that others might overlook; whether an idea is a simple one-person project or a sophisticated telecommunications start-up.  His combination of engineering prowess and hands-on business experience will help connect programs and people from all of the schools on our campus, and, more broadly, throughout the Dallas community.  Duncan understands and values collaboration and that will be evident in the programs he initiates and leads.  I could not be more pleased and proud than I am to have Dr. MacFarlane as the first person to occupy the new Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship.”

About Duncan MacFarlane

Duncan Macfarlane
Duncan MacFarlane

Duncan MacFarlane ’98 has written more than 100 technical papers or patents in the area of photonic systems and components, which use light across the spectrum for a variety of useful purposes. His wide-ranging research has focused on areas that include micro-optics, ultrafast lasers, photonic integrated filters, nonlinear optics, semiconductor lasers, optical communications and advanced displays.

His discoveries in the area of photonic filters, which can enhance clarity and the ability to tune in a signal, are widely used in industry. He pioneered the manufacture of microoptics using ink jet techniques and invented a novel volumetric display, a graphic display device that forms a visual representation of an object in three physical dimensions, which has been used in aerospace.

MacFarlane received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Brown University, his Ph.D. from Portland State University and his M.B.A. from SMU’s Cox School of Business. He has held positions at several technology and engineering firms, including Texas Instruments. He helped start Celion Networks, a telecommunications system start-up backed by Sequoia, and co-founded MRRA, a company dedicated to improving medical imaging through supporting instrumentation.

At SMU’s Lyle School, MacFarlane also holds the titles of associate dean for Engineering Entrepreneurship, acting executive director of the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, and professor of electrical engineering. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in electromagnetics, optics, signals and systems, communication systems and the management of high technology products. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America.

About Bobby B. Lyle

Bobby B. LyleBobby B. Lyle

In making possible a faculty position dedicated to engineering entrepreneurship, Bobby B. Lyle continues his decades of service and support for SMU and the engineering school that has carried his name since 2008. Lyle has cumulative service of more than 27 years as an SMU trustee and is a member of the executive boards of both the Lyle School of Engineering and the Cox School of Business, and Chairs the University Audit Committee Lyle is vice chair of the Maguire Energy Institute and vice chair of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.   He was a member of the SMU Campaign Leadership Council and Convening Co-Chair of the Lyle School Campaign Steering Committee during the Campaign, which was successfully completed on Dec. 31. 

The founder of Lyco Energy Corporation in 1981, Lyle has been a leader in the oil and natural gas industry for more than 30 years, exploring throughout the United States. In 2000, his company drilled and fracture stimulated the first horizontal oil well in the prolific Bakken Shale formation in Montana.  After selling Lyco Energy in 2005, he established Lyco Holdings Incorporated, a private investment firm.

Lyle graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in mechanical engineering, received a graduate degree in engineering administration from SMU and earned a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He served as a professor and administrator in what is now the Edwin L. Cox School of Business, ultimately serving as dean ad interim and executive dean.

“We are grateful to Dr. Lyle for not only making this new endowed faculty position possible, but for helping to recruit Dr. MacFarlane to fill it,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and Academic Affairs.  “His devotion to engineering at SMU continues to be important to its students and faculty.”

The gift to fund the Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship counts toward SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign, which concluded on Dec. 31 and raised more than $1 billion to support student quality, faculty and academic excellence and the campus experience. 


SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

SMU’s Bobby Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 28 graduate programs, including masters and doctoral degrees