Joel Ferziger, pioneer in thermoscience, dies at 67

Joel H. Ferziger

Joel H. Ferziger

Joel H. Ferziger, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and an internationally recognized authority in the field of thermoscience, died of pancreatic cancer at Stanford Hospital on Aug. 16. He was 67.

A memorial service was held on Aug. 19 at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, where he and his wife, Eva Ferziger, resided.

A member of the Stanford faculty for 43 years, Ferziger was recognized for developing computer simulations to model complex turbulent flows, such as the transport of oxygen and plankton in oceans and estuaries. His work also contributed to the design of more efficient, quieter and environmentally benign gas turbine engines for aircraft.

"Joel pioneered a new approach to predicting turbulent flows, which had a big impact for the prediction of weather and aerodynamic forces," said mechanical engineering Professor Parviz Moin. "He also pioneered a set of undergraduate and graduate courses in the area of computational mathematics that became quite popular as computers got faster.

'Dream job'

Ferziger was born on March 24, 1937, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Even as a child, he had a strong interest in the sciences, particularly chemistry. He began college at age 16 at the Cooper Union in New York, where he received an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in 1957. He then enrolled in the nuclear engineering program at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's degree in 1959 and a doctorate in 1962.

Ferziger became an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford in 1961 at age 24 and was named full professor in 1972. He also held a courtesy professorship in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

At his retirement party earlier this year, Ferziger paid special tribute to Stanford. "This has been my dream job for 43 years," he told his colleagues. "I cannot imagine wanting to do anything else. If I were independently wealthy, I probably would have done it for free."

Intellectual leader

Ferziger was active in nuclear engineering until the early 1970s, when he began exploring the development of computer simulations of complex turbulent flows. He was a pioneer of the large eddy simulation method, which is used to predict the motion of large structures in the turbulent flow of a fluid.

"Joel's death is a big loss to the fluid mechanics community and to the campus community in general," said Sanjiva Lele, a professor of mechanical engineering. "His personality was terrific. Besides being an intellectual leader, he was very much the glue in our department."

In addition to conducting his own research, Ferziger was as an adviser to dozens of engineering graduate students. "He supervised more than 50 Ph.D.s ­ more than one Ph.D. graduate a year," Moin noted. "This is a tremendous feat."

Gourmet chef

Ferziger loved to travel and visited numerous places, from Yosemite to Paris, even while undergoing treatment for his illness. He also had a passion for gourmet cooking and wine, and hosted frequent gatherings at his home for his students, family and friends.

"He enjoyed living well," recalled colleague Stephen G. Monismith, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "I was invited over to his house several times to have dinner with him and Eva. He was just a good person."

Awards and honors

Ferziger received numerous honors during his lifetime. He was a National Science Foundation Fellow from 1957 to 1960, a Fulbright Fellow in the Netherlands from 1967 to 1968 and a visiting professor at Queen Mary College in London in 1979. He also received the Alexander von Humboldt Award in 1987 and a Max Planck Research Prize in 1991.

During his career, Ferziger wrote more than 100 archival journal articles and several textbooks, including Computational Methods for Fluid Dynamics published in 1996 and coauthored by Milovan Peric.

"Joel was a very close colleague and a very good friend," recalled Jeffrey R. Koseff, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "We collaborated actively on research projects for the past 17 years, jointly supervised a number of Ph.D. students and wrote a dozen papers together. I will miss his brilliance and his warm, empathetic collegiality greatly."

In addition to his wife, Eva, Ferziger is survived by daughters Shoshana Cohen of Menlo Park and Ruth Ferziger of San Jose, stepson Tom Kramer of San Francisco and two grandchildren.

"When we were kids, we just took it for granted that everyone had a father like him," said Cohen, "We didn't realize that not everyone had a brilliant scientist living in their house, making major contributions to the field of thermoscience."

The family requests that donations in his memory be made to the Professor Joel H. Ferziger Memorial Fellowship Fund at the Stanford School of Engineering, which the family has established in his honor. The fellowship will be awarded to an incoming graduate student each year.

To contribute, call Frank Scioscia, associate director of major gifts in the School of Engineering, at (650) 724-7703, or email him at, or visit the website listed under Related Information, at right.