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Ted Belytschko passed away

It is with great sadness that we post this entry.  Ted Belytschko passed away early this morning, 15 September 2014.  

Ted Belytschko was an accomplished Walter P. Murphy Professor and McCormick Distinguished Professor of Computational Mechanics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the recipient of numerous honors and awards, a highly sought after consultant and a prolific writer and author of both books and hundreds of professional articles and had an international reputation for his research activities.  His greatest role was as a respected teacher and mentor.

As a tribute to Ted’s devotion to education and his students, in lieu of flowers Ted’s family would like memorials to go to the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University Scholarship fund honoring Ted Belytschko.


Zhigang Suo's picture

This is very, very sad news.  Ted was an exceptionally accomplished researcher, author, and teacher.  I attended his Timoshenko Lecture, in New York City, in November 2001.  Travel to New York right after 9/11 was seriously curtailed.  But many were there.  He made us laugh, even though his topic was serious.  His textbook on nonlinear finite elements, coauthored with Wing Kam and Brian, conveyed the directness, immediacy and excitement in his talks.  He had an unforgettable style.

photo of Ted Belytschko

This is indeed a sad day for our community.

Ted Belytschko was a fairly remarkable scholar and man.  He belonged to that elite cadre of researchers who are members of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences.   He is perhaps best known for his many contributions to nonlinear finite element methods, in particular methods for explicit dynamics.  His scholarly output isn't rivaled by too many people.  Ted's scholarly works have garnered more than 32,000 citations and an h-index of 94.  Several of his publications have been cited more than a thousand times.  

Beyond his many professional accomplishments, Ted will also be fondly remembered for his active role in mentoring young people in the community.  I'm not sure it's possible to explain just how much of an impact Ted had in this respect.  Of course he was a great mentor to his own graduate students, continuing in that role long after they had left his direct supervision.  But he was also mentor to a much wider space of people outside of his own research group, ranging from young colleagues at Northwestern to up-and-coming stars in the computational mechanics world.  

I was very fortunate to have been one of Ted's doctoral students during a very active period at Northwestern.  This was during the late nineties when Ted's group was pushing the boundaries of computational science and engineering, leading to seminal contributions in meshfree methods and extended finite element methods.  It was an incredible privilege to be a member of Ted's group during this period.  My stay there overlapped with Petr Krysl, N. Sukumar, Nicolas Moes, and Marino Arroyo, just to name a few.  

Ted had fairly high expectations for his students.  He once asked me to enter the Melosh Competition with the simultaneous suggestion that I should win it (no pressure!).  I think what I will remember most fondly from that period are the talks we had on Saturdays.  I used to come into the lab on Saturdays and Ted would almost always stop by after he had finished his morning swim.  We would talk about whatever, but mostly he liked to talk about finite elements.


He will be sorely missed.

N. Sukumar's picture

I consider myself very fortunate to have known Ted.  My Ph.D. advisor at N'western was Brian Moran, but I closely interacted with Ted, first as a graduate student and later on as a post-doc.  Brian gave me the latitude and support to explore new research avenues, and Ted kept me and others motivated to do research. The joint group meetings on Friday afternoons fostered learning and permitted many of us to interact on research.  We pick-up cues from our environment and what we observe, and Ted's style, presence, and feedback greatly enhanced our collective graduate experience.  His simple and direct writing style, eye for what's important, and how to conduct `methods development research' has had a direct impact on how many of us have shaped our own research.

Ted led by example -- when it comes to being committed to the academic profession, and to emphasize that there is no substitute for perseverance, dedication and hard-work.  I cherish the many memories of our interactions during my days at N'western, and later on whenever I have met him at conferences. He will be missed.

Sulin Zhang's picture

I have been in great sadness since I heard the shocking news by email from Ted's long-term secretary yesterday. Even though Ted had been ill for nearly five years and did not recover well, this is still a shocking news to the community.

Ted shall be missed by the community for his scholarly contribution in computational mechanics and as a colleague and a mentor. Ted is one of the top-10 highly cited engineers worldwide. He was a person who never lost the sense of humor, even in his difficult times. His simple words will life-long impact people who have ever worked with him:  "DONT rush", "never too late to get started NOW",  "get things DONE", "make it simpler",  to name a few. 

It was a great honor for me to have worked with Ted as his postdoc about ten years ago on multiscale modeling. As John commented, Ted had quite high expectations for his group members.  I still remembered that during that time Ted very frequently came to my office to disccuss my research progress at 7am in the morning and 9pm in the evening of the same day, including weekdays and Saturdays. Thanks to Ted, I had developed and carried along the good habit of getting up early.  I also remmebred in the lunch of my last day in Ted's group, he commented "you should work on something different from my research in order to position yourself well".  This has shaped my research career considerably. 

We will remember you, Ted. 

I worked with Ted for almost 3 years - half of that time was after his sudden illness. Indeed, like Sulin said, Ted's short sentences make his opinion more impressive. The one I like most is "Think big, Aim high". I think his Timonshenko lecture was disseminating the same idea. Suddenly, I begin to miss those Saturday lunches with him and other fellow students, post-docs after our routine Saturday morning group meeting at a nearby Korean restaurant. I forgot the name of the restaurant though.

Harold S. Park's picture

Ted was not my adviser at Northwestern, but as part of the Belytschko-Liu-Moran collective group of students in computational mechanics, we all benefitted from his presence, and I wanted to share a few thoughts from someone who was not his doctoral student or postdoc, but still absorbed a huge amount from him.  One thing that all of us learned, through our Friday joint group meetings, was the frustration and sarcasm of Ted if our talks, presentation, and knowledge of our subjects were not up to par.  I was also always grateful not to be a Ted student when, inevitably at the end of the meetings (3 PM Friday), he would pick a poor student and say, "Sulin, can we meet at 8 AM tomorrow (Saturday)?" 

The other lesson I learned indirectly from Ted was the importance of clarity and simplicity in writing papers.  His papers were always clear, to the point, and free of excessive mathematics, and thus are widely accessible to many readers and students to follow on to Ted's original ideas.

Finally, I will never forget his attention to detail in reading my PhD thesis.  It was over 200 pages, and Ted was not my PhD adviser.  However, after my defense, he returned to me a bloody red copy in which he had hand corrected and proofed literally every page.  This, to me, exemplifies the comments made by Sulin, John and Jay when they talk about Ted's incredible generosity to people who were not his students.

Jay Oswald's picture

There are a great number of us that are fortunate to have had Ted as an advisor, teacher, and/or mentor and his role in shaping our abilities and passion for research is tremendous.  I have little doubt that the impact of his life will be permanent as we strive to continue his tradition by instilling our students and those we mentor with the same enthusiasm for advancing computational and applied mechanics and the many other scientific and engineering fields that are connected.  Beyond his excellent scholarly work, Ted was an advisor that deeply cared about the success and development of his students, even when this was sometimes obscured by the high expectations he had for us.

My time at Northwestern coincided with the beginning of the terrible illness that took from Ted from us.  This was a challenging period for the Belytschko group, however it is a testament to Ted’s mentoring, and his incredible assistant, Nancy Flannery, that despite the severity of his illness, papers were published, project deadlines were met, and students graduated.  We improvised when we needed to.  I fondly remember my PhD defense, held in the Belytschko’s living room, where we hung a tarp over the picture window so that the room was dark enough for a projector.  The many trips I took to the Belytschko home also gave the chance to get to know some of Ted’s family, including his wife Gail, who was always kind and supportive to Ted’s students.  My hope that is that, despite the difficult health struggles Ted endured over the last years of his life, the flux of excited and enthusiastic students that visited him at his house or when he was able to come to campus kept him invigorated and in high spirits.


We will deeply miss Ted and the community has indeed suffered a deep loss.  I hope that we can all strive to keep his memory alive by following his excellent lead in research and mentorship.

Jinxiong Zhou's picture

From June 17 to June 19, in 2004, at professor Zhuo Zhuang's invitation, Ted lectured on the theory of nonlinear finite element at Tsinghua University, Beijing. It was the first time I met Ted in person. Many young faculties, students, and engineers participated this fantastic course. We learned a lot from Ted. Closely follow the meshfree method developed by Ted and Wing Kam, I initated my research career as a junior faculty. 

Marino Arroyo's picture

As one of Ted’s PhD students, I feel devastated by this loss. Many of the comments and stories written here resonate with my own experience with Ted. He was an extraordinary researcher, teacher and mentor. It is difficult for me to express how genuinely these words are felt. 

Ted’s creativity, intuition or sense of humor were truly unique. He addressed complex and important problems with simple good ideas, going straight to the point. When developing his ideas--as in the group meetings--, or communicating them, he was able to combine contagious excitement with skepticism about his own work. This created a fantastic atmosphere to develop research. Despite being an extraordinarily accomplished researcher, he did not miss the opportunity to express his admiration for other people’s work. 

Ted was full of life, and he will be sorely missed.


It was with great sadness that I received the news on Monday. I had the chance to benefit from Ted's teaching and to attend the inspiring weekly group meetings on Fridays at Northwestern during my PhD with Brian. Ted taught us advanced finite elements and I think that his charisma and personality were a motivator for many to follow a research career in Computational Mechanics.


A two minute corridor discussion with Ted could be more revealing than a week of reading. His incisive brain and the passion he put into work were truly inspiring. Being a PhD student in the TAM lab, I did not yet comprehend the outstanding level abnegation that Ted showed for his students and close collaborators. Almost 15 years later, I am most admirative of Ted's caring style. He would visit most of his students every morning directly at their desk and support them in their work, propose new ideas, share his recent (possibly nightly) reading of a book. Realising the scarcity of academic's time, I realise now what these daily visits meant and I am most admirative.


My own students heard me many times use Ted as the archetype of a caring mentor.


Farewell, Ted, we miss you.


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