Professor Olek Zienkiewicz

Professor Olek Zienkiewicz

Professor Olek Zienkiewicz

There are many people in the world for whom Swansea University will always be synonymous with Professor Olgierd (Olek) Zienkiewicz.

Born in Caterham in Surrey in 1921, he attended primary and secondary schools in Poland before obtaining his BSc, PhD and DSc at Imperial College, London. He went on to publish nearly 600 papers and write or edit more than 25 books.

Zienkiewicz is internationally recognised as the "Father of the Finite Element Method", a computational modelling technique that allows engineers to design ever more challenging structures, aeroplanes or other components and processes with minimal use of expensive experimental testing. Zienkiewicz first used technique for the stress analysis of the Clywedog dam in 1963.

His books on the Method were the first to present the subject and to this day remain the standard reference texts. Zienkiewicz' own contribution to the Method's development made it the widely applicable tool of computational mechanics and engineering that was acknowledged in Universities UK's 2006 publication, Eureka UK, as one of the top 100 discoveries and developments in UK universities to have changed the world. The technique is still a flourishing research topic that has considerable potential in new scientific areas, including biomedical engineering and the life sciences.

Zienkiewicz joined Swansea University in 1961 as Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, and was Emeritus Professor of the University until his death in 2009. During his career, he supervised over 70 PhD students, many of whom now hold leading positions in academia and industry. He also founded the first journal dealing with computational mechanics in 1968 (International Journal of Numerical Methods in Engineering), still the major journal in the field of Numerical Computations.

He received over 30 honorary degrees from around the world; other accolades included a CBE, the Prince Philip Medal of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Carl Friedrich Gauss Medal of the German Academy of Science, the Nathan Newmark Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the James Ewing Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Timoshenko Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Newton-Gauss Medal of the International Association for Computational Mechanics.

He was also elected to the Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering in 1979, and was a Foreign Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering, the Polish Academy of Science, the Italian National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese National Academy of Sciences