Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • WILFRED D. IWAN (1935-2020)



    WILFRED DEAN IWAN, emeritus professor and alumnus of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), passed away on October 29, 2020, at the age of 85, in Pasadena, California.

    Bill, as he liked to be called, was born May 21, 1935, in Altadena, California, to Wilfred A. and Dorothy (Glass) Iwan. In school his favorite classes were mathematics and choir, but he excelled in almost all subjects. He graduated from John Muir High School in 1953 and went to Caltech, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering (1957), a Master of Science in applied mechanics (1959), and a PhD in applied mechanics, electrical engineering, and physics (1961).

    In 1957 he met his future wife, Alta Joan Gish, while working at the Forest Home Christian Conference Center in the San Bernardino Mountains. The two fell in love and married September 13, 1957, at the Lake Avenue Church, where they later became lifelong members.

    In 1961 Bill moved to the newly established United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he taught courses in engineering. By the time he left the service, he had attained the rank of captain.

    He returned to California in 1964, joined the Caltech faculty, and settled with his family in Sierra Madre, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1970 he became a full professor.

    During his four decades at Caltech, Professor Iwan taught, conducted research, and mentored a multitude of graduate students. He also served as the executive officer for Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (1980–86).

    In 1982 he was appointed to the State Seismic Safety Commission, which recommends seismic standards and guidelines for seismic safety in California. He was reappointed and eventually became its chairman.

    He was the founding president (1988) of the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering (CUREE), and was instrumental in launching the International Association for Structural Control and Monitoring, which he also served as president.

    Bill’s research focused on fundamental areas of mechanics, such as flow-induced and nonlinear vibrations, on techniques to understand strong earthquake ground motion, and on the analysis and monitoring of the response (including hysteretic) of structural systems subjected to extreme events. He was also involved in the development of public policy regarding disasters.

    His professional achievements span the development of techniques to represent complex nonlinear structures with simpler linear systems, the introduction of practical methods for aseismic design, and the development of effective methods for the analysis of seismic isolation systems for critical equipment. In 1979 he proposed an earthquake early warning system for urban regions.

    In service to the National Academies, he was active on the Disasters Roundtable Steering Committee (2000–02), Board on Natural Disasters (1992–96; chair, 1996–99), Committee on Hazards Mitigation Engineering (chair, 1992–95), Committee for the Symposium on Practical Lessons from the Loma Prieta Earthquake (1992–94), Committee on Natural Disasters (1988–91; chair, 1991–92), and Panel on Real-Time Earthquake Warning (1988–89), among others.

    His work was well recognized. In addition to his 1999 election to the National Academy of Engineering, he was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a distinguished member and fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which honored him with the Nathan M. Newmark Medal (1997), William H. Wisely Award (2006), and Theodore von Kármán Medal (2013). The California Earthquake Safety Foundation awarded him the Alfred E. Alquist Medal “for his lifetime of service to the profession of structural engineering and its application to the safety of the people of California and the world” (2002). From the Seismological Society of America he received the Bruce Bolt Medal (2009) for his work substantially advancing earthquake strong-motion monitoring networks and instrumentation in the United States and internationally, his research contributions in earthquake engineering and engineering seismology, and his leadership in professional organizations to further the acquisition and application of strong-motion data.

    Dr. Iwan retired from teaching in 2003, but he continued conducting research as a professor emeritus at Caltech. His former graduate students describe him as a natural-born mentor with energizing empathy, optimism, and awe-inspiring effectiveness. His colleagues were also impressed by, among other things, his deep and quiet faith; at the Lake Avenue Church he taught Sunday school, was church chairman twice, and volunteered during Sunday services.

    The plethora of his students remember him as a great engineer, a consummate researcher, a stellar mentor, and a gifted human being. The persistent attribute of Iwan’s career, say colleagues and students, was that he did not pursue medals or a spotlight, but rather kept himself focused on getting the mission accomplished!

    Bill Iwan is survived by Joan, their sons William, Robert, and Stephen, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.