Professor Olek Zienkiewicz is internationally recognised as one of the leading developers of the Finite Element Method, a computer-based technique that has, since the 1960s, revolutionised design and analysis procedures in civil, mechanical, aerospace and other branches of engineering.

He was born of a Polish father and English mother in England in 1921 and studied Civil Engineering at Imperial College. He lectured for a time in the Department of Engineering at Edinburgh University and enjoyed a career in the US before returning to the UK, attracted by the growing higher education sector there and specifically the scope offered by the post of Chair of Professor of Civil Engineering at Swansea University. 

Headshot of Olek Zienkiewicz

Shortly after his arrival at Swansea in 1961, he accepted for a PhD, a young Chinese student, Y. K. Cheung who was to work under Professor Zienkiewicz’s  guidance on the first finite element research at Swansea and to collaborate on the first edition of the now-classic treatise, The Finite Element Method.

Initially, the formulation of the method followed a traditional structural engineering approach but as the underlying mathematical basis became understood its application to other disciplines became possible.

The methodology remains a flourishing research topic and its application has considerable potential in new scientific areas, including biomedical engineering and the life sciences.

Zienkiewicz was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1978.  His founding work made the Department of Civil Engineering at Swansea University one of the world’s foremost centres of finite element research, which it remains today.