Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 24

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  • ROBERT L. WIEGEL 1922-2016


    ROBERT LOUIS WIEGEL, professor of civil engineering emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, died July 9, 2016, in Berkeley. He was 93.

    One of five children, Bob was born October 17, 1922, in San Francisco to Louis Henry and Antoinette L. (née Decker) Wiegel; they moved to Oakland the next year. Bob graduated from Oakland High School and attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his BS in mechanical engineering in 1943. While at Berkeley, he was in the ROTC program (Army Ordnance Corps) and after graduating was sent to Europe as a second lieutenant, assigned to a US Army Ordnance Tank Repair Unit. While in England he met his future wife, Anne Pearce. He was discharged from the Army as a first lieutenant in 1946, returned to Berkeley, married Anne in 1948, and received his MS degree in mechanical engineering in 1949.

    Motivation instilled by his parents, his undergraduate study, and 3 years of US Army service all whetted Bob’s interest in becoming an academic, pursuing his natural curiosity and a desire to design and build things. While in his MS program he was appointed an assistant research engineer and later an associate research engineer, and worked with Joe W. Johnson, Richard G. Folsom, John D. Isaacs, Willard N. Bascom, and others under the general supervision of Morrough P. O’Brien on what was then called the “Waves Project.” Bob was appointed lecturer in mechanical engineering in 1957 and associate professor in civil engineering in 1960. In 1963 he was advanced to the rank of professor in civil engineering, a position he held until he retired in 1987. As professor emeritus, he came to campus daily (when in town), continuing his assistance to faculty and students when requested in the hydraulics and construction areas through 2014.

    Bob’s extensive service to Berkeley and the UC system included roles as assistant dean of the College of Engineering (1963–72) and acting dean of the college (1972–73); secretary of the Academic Senate (1988–89); and, at the system-wide level, director of the State Technical Services Program (1965–68). Association with other universities included visiting professorships at the National University of Mexico (1965), Polish Academy of Sciences (1976), and University of Cairo (1978); and many invited lectures to both US and international universities as well as professional societies and government agencies.

    Bob was a pioneer in the field of coastal engineering and was instrumental in building this specialty area in the United States and around the world. He established national and international preeminence for the University of California through his research and publications and through his seminal book Oceanographical Engineering (Prentice-Hall, 1964). He also edited (and authored a chapter on tsunamis) Earthquake Engineering (Prentice-Hall, 1970), the first major effort in this field. He made major contributions to the solution of many civil engineering problems in the ocean, applying oceanographic knowledge: wave-structure interaction, wave analysis, wave forces on structures, beach erosion control, tsunamis, and ocean current measurement and analysis. He was active in developing techniques and equipment for hydraulic model studies of coastal works; an example was the laboratory model (and field study) of the hydraulic problems at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power generating station in California.

    Bob’s service to the profession and governmental agencies was exemplary. A distinguished member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), he served as a member and chair of a number of committees in the Waterways, Harbors, and Coastal Engineering Division, including the executive committee (chair, 1974–75) and Coastal Engineering Research Council (chair, 1978–92). He was also a consultant to government and industry (since 1964); founder and first president (1972–75) and honorary member (1988) of the International Engineering Committee on Oceanic Research; member, Coastal Engineering Research Board, Chief of Engineers, US Army (1974–85); commissioner, California Advisory Commission on Marine and Coastal Resources (1968–74); member, Monterey Bay Shoreline Study: Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee, State of California Resources Agency, Department of Boating and Waterways (1985–86); vice president and director (1988–95), American Shore and Beach Preservation Association; and member, Review Committee, Barrow Beach Nourishment Project, North Slope Borough, Alaska, Science Advisory Committee.

    For the National Research Council, he served on the committees on Engineering Implications of Changes in Relative Mean Sea Level (1984–86), on Coastal Erosion Zone Management (1988–90), and on Beach Nourishment and Protection (1992–95).

    Bob received many awards and honors for both his research and service, including ASCE’s Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize (1962), John G. Moffatt-Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award (1978), and International Coastal Engineering Award (1985); election to the NAE (1975); designation as Senior Queen’s Fellow in Marine Science, Australia (1977); Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, US Army Corps of Engineers (1985); and the UC Berkeley Citation (1987). He was named a Distinguished Diplomate, Coastal Engineering, of the ASCE Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Port, and Navigation Engineers, and in 2011 ASCE published Civil Engineering Classics: Selected Coastal Engineering Papers of Robert L. Wiegel in his honor. The Robert L. Wiegel Conference Room at the US Army Coastal Engineering Research Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, is named in his honor. He also was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary member of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers.

    Bob was a superb role model for colleagues, students, and staff through his teaching, research, service, and concern for students and staff. One of the contributors to this memorial (JI) provides some comments illustrating Bob’s care for students and staff:

    "I first came to UCB as a PhD student in September 1968.… As I stepped into the area of the 3rd floor offices of Professors Hugo Fischer, Bob Wiegel, Joe Johnson, Jim Harder, and Hans Einstein, I felt…an air of excitement…in the spirit of engineering. The transition from my life in Australia to life in Berkeley in the late 60s was huge for me, and I would not have survived without the personal support of Joe Johnson and Bob Wiegel. My supervisors, Hugo Fischer, Gill Corcos, and Hans Levy, provided great intellectual technical support and Joe and Bob ensured that all of us students could somehow reconcile what was going on outside our offices with the demands of our thesis work and with the life we had all come from…. [T]he mentoring at both levels helped me not only to finish my PhD in record time, but also to form a whole new world view, a view that I have lived my life by…. [T]hank you Bob, Joe, Hugo, Gill, and Hans! I returned to O’Brien Hall in 1976 as an assistant professor. Bob Wiegel ensured that I was made to feel welcome and worked with the chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to resolve my transition to a tenured associate professorship.
    Professionally, M.P. O’Brien has been given the credit for laying the foundations of “coastal and ocean engineering,” but Bob Wiegel must surely be given the credit for building the house on these foundations. I shared many chats with Bob during my days as an academic at UCB, as his working hours were similar to mine. Bob was a kind, honest, and incredibly hard working person, who saw engineering as a way to contribute to America and the world community. Bob, you were successful, your contributions will stand the test of time!"

    Bob is survived by Anne, his wife of 67 years, son John, daughters Carol and Diana, and one grandchild.

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