The Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 11, 2001
June 11, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 37


Obituary: Wind Engineering Expert Robert H. Scanlan Dies at 86

By Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Colleagues, friends and family members gathered Friday at a memorial service honoring Professor Robert H. Scanlan, a Department of Civil Engineering faculty member and internationally recognized wind engineering expert who died May 27 at age 86.

During the service, conducted at the university's Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith Center, Scanlan was remembered for his keen intellect, his devotion to his family and his willingness to assist younger researchers. Colleagues and family members described Scanlan as a gentle and humble man who loved to share limericks.

Robert Scanlan in the structural engineering lab in 1993

Nicholas Jones, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, described Scanlan as his "mentor, partner and dear friend." Scanlan's vision, Jones said, "will live on through all of us."

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, pointed out that Scanlan continued to teach, advise students and colleagues, and conduct research until the time of his death, and she noted that the quality of his work never slipped. "Bob was the quintessential faculty member," the dean said.

Scanlan had been dividing his time between homes in Baltimore and Lawrenceville, N.J. At the time of his death, attributed to apparent heart failure, he was in Lawrenceville, working on a new idea for modeling wind-induced vibrations. "He had a page and a half of equations written out," his son, Glenn Scanlan of Hartford, Conn., told the Baltimore Sun. "He took off his glasses and took a nap--it was a perfect way for him to go."

In a message to the faculty and staff, department chair Jones noted that Scanlan "had a unique career that covered a broad spectrum of mechanics, aerodynamics, acoustics, with a principal focus on aeroelasticity and wind engineering in the U.S. and abroad, and in academe, government and industry."

Scanlan joined the Department of Civil Engineering in 1984. He was designated a Homewood Professor, a title given to distinguished nontenured faculty members.

Born in Chicago in 1914, Scanlan received bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in mathematics and physics from MIT.

During the Second World War he served as an aeronautical engineer, becoming the chief of aeroelasticity at Republic Aviation in New York. After the war, he worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, followed by a professorship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

His work and research in aeronautics and aeroelasticity led to publication of Aircraft Vibration and Flutter, a classic text in the theory of aeroelasticity. He was one of the founders of this field of research.

After a second doctoral degree in mechanics, at the Sorbonne, he returned to the United States, where he worked for Schlumberger, then accepted faculty positions at Case Institute of Technology, Princeton and Johns Hopkins.

While at Princeton and Johns Hopkins, he developed his second major career emphasis: wind engineering. His prior experience in aeronautics led to the development of the field of aerodynamics and aeroelasticity of large civil engineering structures, such as high-rise buildings, cooling towers and long-span bridges, work that he continued actively until his death.

Methods he pioneered for the analysis of long-span bridges under wind loading are now in common use among researchers and practitioners around the world. His book Wind Effects on Structures is widely recognized as a key reference in the field.

For his research, he received numerous awards, prizes and citations from his peers, including the James Croes Medal, the Nathan Newmark Medal, the von Karman Medal and the Wellington Prize of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

He served in leadership roles in technical committees of the American Society of Civil Engineers (in which he was an honorary member), was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Mechanics.

He recently served as principal aerodynamic consultant on a number of monumental long-span bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Kap Shui Mun Bridge in Hong Kong.

Scanlan is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; daughters Kate Budlong of Los Angeles and Jean Sachs of Frankfurt, Germany; sons Robert N. Scanlan of Boston and Glenn Scanlan of Hartford; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations may be made to Schools3, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in Mali and Honduras, addressed to Box DD, Carmel, CA 93921; or to the Department of Civil Engineering, Graduate Student Scholarship Fund, Attn. Dr. Nicholas Jones, Latrobe Hall, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218.