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In Memory

Dr. Jack Cermak, Colorado State University Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Pioneer in Wind Engineering Research

September 6, 2012

Jack Cermak, one of the first Colorado State University Distinguished Professors and internationally recognized as the father of wind engineering, died peacefully at his home Aug. 21. He was 89.

Dr. Jack Cermak“Jack was one of the great faculty leaders in CSU history – someone whose groundbreaking research and real love of teaching shaped the course of our University and our engineering program,” said Colorado State President Tony Frank. “We join his family in celebrating his remarkable life and career, and we’re deeply grateful for all he gave to Colorado State and our community.”

Today, Dr. Cermak’s legacy continues at CSU in many ways, including a prestigious scholarship named in his honor and through the Jack E. Cermak Outstanding Adviser Award, CSU’s top recognition for advisers – an award he established and funded through an endowment.

“Jack had a long and most distinguished career at CSU and was known as the Father of Wind Engineering,” said Steven R. Abt, Interim Dean in the College of Engineering. “His accomplishments and recognitions will forever remain a part of the CSU engineering legacy.”

Born Sept. 8, 1922, to Joe and Helen Cermak in the small farm town of Hastings, Colo., he met his first wife Helen Carlson in 1949, and married and moved to Fort Collins the same year. They adopted two sons, Douglas and Jonathan, and were married for over 50 years until her death in March 2005. He married Gloria Garza in August 2006.

Dr. Cermak was a Sound Ranging Officer in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. At CSU, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering (1947) and Master of Science in Hydraulic Engineering (1949). From Cornell University, he received his Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering Mechanics (1959). He continued his education in 1961 as a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge University.

In 1959, he founded the Fluid Dynamics and Diffusion Laboratory, later established the Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering Program, and served as Director and Professor-in-Charge of the program until 1985. His pioneering research resulted in the development of unique wind-tunnel facilities capable of simulating motion in the atmospheric boundary layer. As part of this work, he led important studies of wind impacts on San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and New York City’s World Trade Center.

The development of the wind-tunnel facility and its application to physical modeling of wind effects on buildings and dispersion of air pollutants was recognized in 1973 by Dr. Cermak’s election to the National Academy of Engineering. The National Society of Professional Engineers selected the Fluid Dynamics and Diffusion Laboratory for the 1988 Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award. In 1999, the CSU wind tunnels were selected by the Engineering News-Record as one of 125 great engineering innovations between 1874 and 1999.

For 50 years, Dr. Cermak instructed undergraduate and graduate courses and conducted research on basic and applied problems related to environmental science and fluid mechanics at CSU. He led the development of the Engineering Science major (an undergraduate interdepartmental program), and served as chairman from 1962 to 1973.

He authored or co-authored more than 670 papers and reports and was principal investigator for both basic and applied research projects. He served as consultant to government agencies and engineering, architectural, meteorological and law firms on turbulence, atmospheric diffusion and wind effects on buildings and structures. He co-founded the consulting engineering firm Cermak Peterka Petersen, Inc. in 1981, and was its president until 2006.

Professor Emeritus Robert Meroney, past Director of the Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering Laboratory at CSU, remembered Cermak as “the man who wore many hats.”

“Jack Cermak was not only devoted to the Wind Engineering Program, but he served the college and community in many other ways,” Meroney said. “When I first arrived in 1965 he was the energy and spirit behind the establishment of the Engineering Science option, which permitted the college to service students interested in pre-medicine, pre-law, bioengineering, chemical engineering, engineering mechanics, aerospace engineering, and other areas that did not fit into the classical (CSU engineering) areas. He served as President of the Fort Collins Symphony guild. He served as President of the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He served as President of the CSU chapter of Sigma Xi during a period when it was probably the most active and excellent chapter in the world! I was also proud to work with Jack on the long lasting (more than 20 years) Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering Seminar program. This program was for many years the only weekly seminar program that promoted research within the College of Engineering. He arranged to have top quality seminars by staff from within the college, but also national and international speakers of world renown.”

As a testament to his ability and effectiveness as a teacher, Dr. Cermak was selected as one of the first CSU University Distinguished Professors in 1986. His love of advising his graduate students was continued when he established an endowment for annual Jack E. Cermak Outstanding Adviser awards, which are given to one faculty member from each college and the Graduate School.

He has also left a lasting research heritage at CSU and in his profession. The Jack E. Cermak Wind Engineering Scholarship is endowed and awarded annually to an outstanding student in engineering. He gave funds to rebuild the Jack E. Cermak Thermal & Fluid Dynamics Undergraduate Laboratory in Civil and Environmental Engineering. In the near future, the CSU Morgan Library will accept a large collection of papers and records on the history of wind engineering that will be contributed to the University archives.

The Jack E. Cermak Medal was established in 2000 by the ASCE Engineering Mechanics Division/SEI to recognize Dr. Cermak’s lifetime achievements in the field of wind engineering and industrial aerodynamics. The medal is awarded for outstanding contributions to research and/or practice in engineering for cumulative distinguished contributions. “Dr. Cermak was a pioneer here at CSU in the application of engineering principles taking into account wind loads on structures,” said Wade Troxell, associate dean for research and economic development, in the College of Engineering. “As the ‘Father of Wind Engineering,’ his legacy lives through his colleagues, former students and signature buildings and structures around the world.”

He is survived by his wife Gloria and her entire family; his sons Douglas (Anne) of Lusk, Wyoming, and Jonathan of Fort Collins; his sister June Steepleton (Glenn) of Denver; numerous nieces and nephews; and his second family at Cermak Peterka Petersen Inc.

Contact: Nik Olsen
E-mail: Nik.Olsen@colostate,edu
Phone: 491-5507