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In memoriam: J. David Walker, engineering professor

J. David Walker, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, who earned a reputation as a devoted teacher and accomplished researcher in 25 years at Lehigh, died March 21, after a 12-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 58 years old.

“Dave Walker was the consummate professor,” says Charles Smith, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics and Walker’s colleague at Lehigh and also at Purdue University. “He was an excellent researcher and a thorough and caring teacher.”

“Dave loved what he did and he did it with all his heart,” says Jacob Kazakia, professor of mechanical engineering, who collaborated on research projects with Walker. “He looked at teaching and research as equally important, and he never reduced his teaching load to accommodate his research.”

An expert in fluid mechanics and applied mathematics, Walker joined the Lehigh faculty in 1978 after serving on Purdue’s faculty for five years.

In his quarter-century at Lehigh, he supervised more than 50 graduate students, including 25 Ph.D. students, and published more than 120 articles in scientific and technical journals.

“As good as Dave was at research, he was an equally good, if not better, teacher,” Smith said in a eulogy at Walker’s memorial service on March 24.

“Dave cared deeply about his teaching and about his responsibility to provide each student with the best educational experience, regardless of the level of the class or the topic.

“Not that Dave’s classes were by any stretch of the imagination easy. His lectures were meticulously organized, clearly presented, and terribly thorough. He demanded an inordinate amount of homework, and the difficulty of his exams was legendary. However, I never spoke to a student, undergraduate or graduate, who did not say that Dave was among the best, if not the best, teacher they had ever had.”

”A world-class researcher”

One of those former students, Edward Bogucz ’78, ’85 Ph.D., was named executive director of the New York State-designated Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems at Syracuse University last year after serving eight years as dean of the school’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Dave Walker made a lasting, profound impact on my life,” says Bogucz, who studied for his Ph.D. under Walker and even served as assistant coach on a Little League baseball team that Walker coached in the early 1980s.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of faculty members,” Bogucz says. “Dave stood out as exemplary. He truly did it all. He was a world-class researcher. As a teacher, he had an uncommon knack for helping students see the big picture of a problem, then zero in on the small details, then connect the two.

“Being in one of Dave’s classes was like visiting a museum and peering into every corner. You could see a subject in all its various facets, in all its breadth and complexity.”

As a researcher, Walker specialized in aerodynamics, turbulence, separations and high-speed flows, and conducted computational studies of the behavior of the air flowing past airplane wings and helicopter rotors. His work was funded by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army Research Office.

“Dave was probably the finest numerical analyst I have known,” says Smith, an experimental fluid-dynamics researcher who collaborated and co-wrote papers with Walker. “He was creative, innovative, and damn smart.”

Walker received national and international recognition for his research. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1991, and in 1994 he received the Humboldt Research Award for Senior U.S. Scientists from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, one of the top research awards given by the German government to international scientists and engineers.

He chaired the technical committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics from 1989-93.

At Lehigh, Walker received the Eleanor and Joseph F. Libsch Research Award, which recognizes high-quality research, and the Pi Tau Simga Teaching Award, both in 1991.

Walker earned a B.A. in mathematics, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He was an Honorary Research Fellow at University College in London, England, from 1971-73.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2004

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