Black and white photo of Olek Zienkiewicz

Professor Olgierd Cecil Zienkiewicz (1921-2009), known as ‘Olek’, is perhaps one Swansea University’s most renowned academics, he was the Professor of Civil Engineering from 1961-1987.

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.

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.

Professor Olek Zienkiewicz, c.1980s 

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.

Professor Olek Zienkiewicz stood in front of a blackboard with a series of equations written in chalk.

Professor Olek Zienkiewicz, c.1980s 

Find out more about Zienkiewicz by reading this essay by Roger Owens.

The material is courtesy of the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University.