Obituary - Ted Belytschko

October 2, 2014

A much-cited engineering researcher whose systems of prototyping helped to produce safer cars has died.

Ted Belytschko was born in Proskurov, Ukraine, on 13 January 1943 but spent most of his life in the US. He secured a BS in engineering sciences (1965) followed by a PhD in mechanics (1968) at the Illinois Institute of Technology before beginning his academic career at the University of Illinois at Chicago. There he served as an assistant professor (1968-73), associate professor (1973-76) and finally professor of structural mechanics (1976-77).

At this point he decided to move to Northwestern Uni-versity in Evanston, Illinois, as professor of computational mechanics (1977-91). The title was later changed to Walter P. Murphy professor of computational mechanics and Professor Belytschko also acted as chairman of Northwestern’s department of mechanical engineering (1997-2002).

A prolific, highly influential researcher, he had a major impact on how engineers design structures. Some of his early work in the new field of “simulation-driven engineering” involved testing the computational mechanics of windsurfing on Lake Michigan. This led to innovative forms of virtual prototyping in such fields as car crash analysis; designers now use simulations based on Professor Belytschko’s work rather than driving vehicles into each other.

Labelled “my model for a successful academic” and “a titan in the field of mechanics”, by Kevin Lynch, chair of Northwestern’s department of mechanical engineering, Professor Belytschko “produced ideas, technology and people that have defined the practice of computational mechanics”. His eminence was reflected in his membership of the US National Academy of Engineering, the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences - and in the medal that the US Association for Computational Mechanics named in his honour.

Editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, Professor Belytschko was also the co-author of standard texts such as Nonlinear Finite Elements for Continua and Structures (with Wing Kam Liu and Brian Moran, 2000; second edition, 2014) and A First Course in Finite Elements (with Jacob Fish, 2007).

A committed teacher, Professor Belytschko once said that his philosophy was to “give [students] a lot of freedom, because it’s remarkable what these young people can do on their own. And if I hadn’t let them develop on their own, I don’t think I would have the reputation I have. So much of my reputation rests on the contributions of my students.”

Professor Belytschko died on 15 September and is survived by his wife Gail and three children.


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