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J. Tinsley Oden Acceptance Remarks

Following are the texts of the presentation remarks by Professor Richard H. Gallagher and acceptance speech by Professor J. Tinsley Oden during the presentation of the John von Neumann Medal at the Banquet of the Second U.S. National Congress on Computational Mechanics, Washington, D. C. on August 17, 1993.

Award Presentation Remarks

Richard Gallagher
President of Clarkson University

Before I introduce tonight's honoree, I would like to read the citation of the award:

"The von Neumann Medal is awarded by The U.S. Association of Computational Mechanics in recognition of outstanding contributions and eminent achievement in the field of computational mechanics, including, but not limited to research, development, teaching and significant achievement of the state of the art."

The first recipient of this prestigious award meets every one of these criteria and some others as well. I will describe how those criteria have been met, but before I do, I wish to make some brief remarks about John von Neumann.

von Neumann, born in Hungary and a Princeton mathematician, conducted brilliant research during the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, he was known as a child prodigy. His career came to a premature end at age 54 in 1957, but not before he developed not merely the mathematical logic that underlies electronic computers, but also some of the algorithms that computers are used for.

I have had a long friendship with tonight's medal recipient, Professor J. Tinsley Oden, but I had heard of him long before I met him. A colleague of mine at Bell Aerosystems in Buffalo, New York, had travelled to Huntsville, Alabama, in the early 1960s. It was then unusual to meet anyone in one's travels who worked in finite elements, but my acquaintance returned from that trip excited by the fact that he had met someone brimful of ideas on the field I was working in as well, someone named Tinsley Oden.

Then, in 1969, I and Ted Kawai, who has preceded me on this platform, organized the first U.S.--Japan Seminar on Finite Elements. Each country was strictly limited to 20 participants, and it was during that memorable venture that I first met Tinsley. There were young participants, old participants, and individuals from many different endeavors. Everyone possessed a formidable reputation. The young Tinsley Oden drew special recognition, however, because of the prodigious output he had launched. That has never diminished throughout the years.

The breadth and scope of his output defies, for me, the ability to provide an adequate description. Let me try to do so in outline, by use of a lower bound theorem. He has authored or co--authored no fewer than 30 books and edited 30 others. He has over 350 published papers to his credit. Let me cite just three books. In the 1960s he wrote the Mechanics of Elastic Structures a marvelous introductory text on advanced strength of materials. I have used it in courses I have taught and recommend it highly. In 1972 his Finite Elements of Nonlinear Continua broke new ground in the utilization of modern applied mathematics in finite element theory. And, with colleagues, he set out virtually every basic concept in finite element analysis in his multi--volume book series.

In research publications, again to just mention a few, he contributed key fundamental papers in finite elements for fluid dynamics, contact problems, space--time finite elements, inelasticity, plate and shell analysis, and adaptivity.

In this award, of course, we should not look only at published work. His excellence in instruction is legendary. Who can match his capability, to describe with perfect clarity, the very sophisticated lines of investigation I have just enumerated? His students speak to this excellence. I did not intend to single anyone out -- but, as the Treasurer of USCAM, J. N. Reddy has already been introduced, let me recognize him again as representative of those who have studied with Tinsley Oden towards the Ph. D. degree.

Finally, there is the dimension of public service. Tinsley, you have contributed to professional colleagues everywhere in this dimension. You created the Texas Institute for Computational Mechanics, a mecca for scholars in the field. You have served as president of the American Academy of Mechanics, the Society for Engineering Science, and a large number of mechanics committees. Today, you lead The International Association of Computational Mechanics, the very organization that ties together the national groups in computational mechanics, such as USCAM. We are in your debt.

Tinsley, you have received awards in your illustrious career -- honorary degrees, membership in the National Academy of Engineering, ASME's Worcester Reed Warner Medal, and many, many others. But we, at USCAM, take a special pride this evening in presenting you with the von Neumann medal of this Society.

Award Acceptance Speech

J. Tinsley Oden,
University of Texas at Austin

To my dear friends, Dick and Terry Gallagher, to President Ted Belytschko and to other friends and guests, to Ahmed Noor, our host and organizer, to Olek Zienkiewicz, Ted Kawai, Tom Hughes, Bob Taylor, Sam Key, Pedro and Mary Marcal, Walter Wunderlich, Ervin Stein, Les Berke, Satya Atluri and many others who can look with me back the long way over the years during which Computational Mechanics began, to all of you, I thank you for your presence and support. I give the USACM my most sincere thanks for this singular honor. Computational Mechanics began as a dim idea---clumsy words---tossed around naively in circles by rank beginners in a subject who had only the faintest inkling of what the subject might mean over 30 years or more of research and development.

I am grateful that I have been a small part of the development of Computational Mechanics,
as a discipline, that has and will continue to have a profound impact on science and technology,
as a viable component of theoretical and applied mechanics and of the broader fields of computational science, and
as a society, a national and an international association conceived with the conviction that this discipline is important enough to man's welfare that it deserves nurturing, support, promotion, and encouragement.

For a group of the size and quality of this to be here in a meeting on computational methods would have been hard to imagine in the early days of computational mechanics. Some myths were relevent then took time to die. To mention two:

Myth 1. "Significant advances in computer modeling will only depend upon advances in computing machines; the methods, algorithms, and software issues are secondary to the development of faster and more efficient computers".

As shortsighted as this notion is, it prevailed in many prestigious agencies and institutions for many years and its remnants can still be found among the cobwebs in the minds of some in high places.

Myth 2. "All that is needed to produce good computer simulations is sound physics: good mechanics produces good models and mechanics alone is sufficient to design reliable numerical methods".

As silly as this notion is, it is still banted about by those who wish to minimize the role of numerical analysis, computer science and any careful and rigorous approach to computer modeling that would fall outside the narrow realm of their personal experiences.

John von Neumann would not agree with that notion. Theodore von Karman, who directed von Neumann into a technical career in engineering prior to his triumphs as a mathematician, would not agree with that notion either. On many occasions he asserted that practical engineers are those who perpetuate the mistakes of their predecessors.

No: computational mechanics is an applied science that has its own standards anddogma. It rests on the intersection of mechanics and physics, engineering, of numerical analysis and applied mathematics, and of computer sciences and it strives to resolve the mathematical models of nature by computation methods and devices.

To paraphrase a passage I wrote a few years ago, I ask the question:

"What is it that engineers and scientists do that is responsible for the great advances in technology that we enjoy today---in communication, transportation, medicine, ---etc.? One answer is that they model nature. They develop mathematical abstr actions of natural phenomena and use them to study and predict the way things will behave."

John von Neumann said "The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work."

What does "work"- mean? By trial and error we have determined that those models that work are based on sound physical and mathematics principles gradually wrested from centuries of research. Most of them are characterized by complex partial differential and integral equations that until the advent of computers stood well outside the reach of the engineering and scientific communities. The disc ipline concerned with the use of computer methods and devices to study these models in computational mechanics.

Incidentally, we should not get too concerned about the term mechanics. Computational Mechanics is anything of interest to people in USACM---be it semiconductor physics, plamas, electromagnetic field theory, optics, etc. All is all fair game, because all involve in some sense the study of the behavior of particles, bodies, or continuous media under the action of forces---which is mechanics.

Now about John von Neumann.
First, I believe he is an appropriate figure to honor in USACM. Though born in Budapest, he became a loyal, patriotic, flag-waving, and truly devoted American, very much caught up in the scientific rush of World War II and the atomic policies of the U.S. in that era. He was, in fact, a Commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at the time of his untimely death.
He was recipient of The Presidential Medal of Merit and U.S. Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award. He was a member of the Chair Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Air Force Weapons Committee and General Advisory Committee to the President of the United States of America.
Of course, he is considered the father of modern computing. The von Neumann architecture for computer design, including the JOHNNIAC computer project at Princeton in 1951, stood as a pioneering contribution to early comuter science and technology.
He was a computational mechanician of sorts, designing and using the first primitive computers, developing numerical algorithm for hydrodynamics calculations, and working on the underlying mathematics. He was a top theoretical mathematician as well, with fundamental contributions to the theory of games, graph theory and linear operator theory.
He was, on top of all this, one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century. His mental capabilities were observed to be superhuman, with extraordinary mental aptitudes described by Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner as ``one whose mind gave me the impression of a perfect instrument whose gears were machined to mesh accurately to a thousandth of an inch". Many thought of him a higher stage in human development, further evolved through the rest of mankind.

I realize that this medal in no way is intended to compare me with John von Neumann, but merely to recognize that USACM wishes to remember what his contributions meant to scientific computing and to pat on the back one of its own for attempting, however, meagerly and imperfectly to perpetual those ideals.

For whatever I have done to deserve this recognition, I have many many to thank. My wife and parents, my mother and my children who regrettably could not be here tonight, for their support and many sacrifices that permitted me to work on computational mechanics. And also to my students, many of whom taught me as much as I taught them. Among these here are J. N. Reddy, Noboru Kikuchi, and Olivier Jacquotte; Roshdy Barsoum and G. Yagawa, post docs of many years ago, Wyotek Tworzydlo, Manas Deb just now beginning, and many others that I cannot take time to name.

I am greatly honored by this award.

I will cherish it forever and strive to be a worthy recipient of the John von Neumann medal.