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Mechanical engineering instructor and hot-rodder dies at 48

STANFORD -- Francis E. Rinehart, known as Fritz to students, friends and colleagues in the mechanical engineering department where he worked as a teaching specialist, died Sunday, Jan. 22, after a brief bout with cancer. He was 48.

A memorial service for the popular instructor will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, in Stanford Memorial Church. A reception will follow in Building 530.

"Fritz was a very good teacher. It's mind-boggling how good his ratings were in the student surveys. They were consistently 88, 89, 90 percentile. He was very approachable and students sought him out. He spent as much time with them as it took," said Craig T. Bowman, professor of mechanical engineering, who co-taught some courses with Rinehart. "Many an evening, walking to my car, I would pass Fritz's lab and see him still there, holding discussions with students who had just happened to drop in," he recalled.

The youthful engineer brought his passion for automobiles - he was an avid hot-rodder - into the undergraduate laboratories that he taught, including a popular course on the internal combustion engine. His practical know-how about engines and other energy conversion systems made his teaching particularly relevant.

"More than 200 undergraduates passed through Fritz's engine lab,” Bowman said. “A good fraction of them are now working in the auto industry.”

Rinehart also was a perfectionist in his work, Bowman said, as demonstrated by his role in developing the Stanford Internal Combustion Engine Laboratory. In 1979, Bowman and mechanical engineering Professor Robert Moffat got money from General Motors to refurbish the existing, out-of-date engine laboratory on campus. They asked Rinehart, who was a research associate at the time, if he would help design and build the new laboratory.

"Fritz designed and supervised the outfitting of the new lab. You can see his personality in every test stand. We've had a number of people from the auto industry comment that they wished they had a lab that was as well designed," Bowman said.

Rinehart was born in Massachusetts and started his career there as an automotive technician. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona in 1974 before coming to Stanford. After receiving his M.S. and Engineer's degrees at Stanford, he became a research associate in the thermosciences division of the mechanical engineering department in 1978 and was promoted to teaching specialist in 1982.

He is survived by his mother, Elizabeth; brother, Christopher; and long-time companion, Diana Spence.



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