Engineering Departments

Hassan Aref, former dean of engineering at Virginia Tech, dies


Hassan Aref
Blacksburg, VA , September 12, 2011
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Hassan Aref, who held a chaired professorship and served as the former dean of engineering at Virginia Tech, died at his home this past weekend.

“Dr. Aref was a scholar of high repute, a giant in the field of fluid mechanics, and most of all, a kind and caring mentor who, when he was dean, took a chance and hired me as department head,” said Ishwar Puri, head the department of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech.

“He was passionately dedicated to advancing the College of Engineering and the college did well during his tenure as dean.  He was a scholar and a gentleman, ”said Paul Torgersen, president emeritus of Virginia Tech.

“We are saddened by the loss of such a visionary leader,” added Richard C. Benson, the current dean of the college of engineering at Virginia Tech.

A celebration of life will be held Wednesday, 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM at Crossroads Church, 1602N 1125E Road, Monticello, IL 61856. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a memorial fund to be established, details to come at hassan.mikearef.com. Another celebration, to be held in Blacksburg, is planned sometime around October 5 to 7.  More information will be made public once final decisions have been made. 

Aref arrived at Virginia Tech as dean on April 1, 2003, after a nationwide search to fill the position.  He came to Blacksburg from his position as a professor and head of the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As dean for two years, his accomplishments were many.

As the former chief scientist of the San Diego Supercomputer, Aref had the knowledge and abilities to help lead the University in its efforts in 2003 to develop its supercomputer, System X.  At the time, System X was the fastest supercomputer at any University in the world. It also won the international honors with the 21st Century Achievement Award in Science from Computerworld

Upon Aref’s arrival in 2003, he suggested to Virginia Tech’s Division of Engineering Fundamentals that the faculty transition the division into the Department of Engineering Education.  The purpose was to provide quality technology teachers for K-16.  The faculty agreed to the novel concept, and now offer graduate degrees related to engineering education.  The department also hired several technical communications faculty to enhance the communications skills of the engineering students.

The National Academy of Engineering recognized Virginia Tech for the initiation of this groundbreaking degree program in engineering education. Today, Virginia Tech and Purdue are the recognized leaders all of the engineering colleges in the U.S. in this effort.

Engineering education faculty also developed a new freshman curriculum, primarily due to the move of computer science into the College of Engineering, a move also facilitated by Aref. The new courses have an engineering/computer science "flavor" that makes them unlike any other freshman engineering courses. Also included is a modern approach to design, commonly referred to as "object-oriented design."

He initiated a creative way to support young faculty who had not received salary increases in a number of years due to state budget cuts, creating the college’s faculty fellows program.  Recipients receive a stipend of $5000 annually for three fiscal years to be used for supporting his or her research.

“Not a day goes by that I do not witness Professor Aref’s extraordinary vision as dean.  His legacy of innovation will be felt by the College of Engineering for many decades to come,” added Benson.

Prior to his tenure at the University of Illinois, Aref was a faculty member at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD).  He joined UCSD as an associate professor of fluid mechanics in 1985, when he also received a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He was promoted to full professor in 1988.  From 1989 until 1992 he held the concurrent position of Chief Scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. 

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Aref received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1975.  He earned his doctorate in physics, with a minor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, from Cornell University in 1980.  He remained at Cornell for six months as a postdoctoral research associate at its Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics, and spent the summer of 1980 at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.   In the fall of 1980, he joined the engineering faculty at Brown University as an assistant professor, where he remained until he joined the UCSD campus.  He became a U.S. citizen in 1998.

Among his numerous recognitions, Aref received the G.I. Taylor Award, which he was scheduled to receive at the Society of Engineering Mechanics’ annual meeting on Oct. 12. The Taylor Medal is presented on a very selective basis with no fixed schedule. The last one was presented in 2003.

Aref, the Reynolds Metals Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, also held a Niels Bohr Visiting Professorship at the Technical University of Denmark for five years where he was part of a research environment headed by Tomas Bohr, a professor of physics.

In 2005 Aref, was one of 20 speakers from around the world invited to present at the Einstein Symposium at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. This symposium was organized to celebrate the declaration by UNESCO of 2005 as the World Year of Physics.  Since then he has given invited lectures in Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Poland, The Netherlands, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

He also received the 2000 Otto Laporte Award of the American Physical Society, Division of Fluid Dynamics.  He was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Mechanics, the Danish Center for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics, and the World Innovation Foundation.  He served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Congress Committee of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, and was a past chair of the US National Committee on Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.  He had lectured widely across the US and around the world.

Aref was associate editor of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 1984-94, founding editor with David G. Crighton of Cambridge Texts in Applied Mathematics, and today serves on the editorial board of Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics and as co-editor of Advances in Applied Mechanics. He has served on the editorial boards of Physics of Fluids, Physical Review E, and Regular and Chaotic Dynamics.

His research interests were in theoretical and computational fluid mechanics, particularly vortex dynamics, the application of chaos to fluid flows, and the mechanics of foams.  He is co-editor of two books and author of more than 70 papers in premier journals.

Aref and his wife, Susanne, have two children, Michael and Thomas.  Thomas Aref is a Ph.D. currently doing his post-doctorate at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland.  Michael Aref is a physician, certified as an internist,  and holds a Ph.D. He has dual appointments in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering as well as Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois.


Lynn Nystrom
(540) 231-4371