Thursday, March 23, 2017
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In Memoriam Ray Clough

Ray W. Clough

We are sad to learn that Ray William Clough, Professor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley, passed away on October 8, 2016 in the age of 96. He was the last living pioneer of the first hour for the Finite Element Method; in fact he was the person who coined the Name “Finite Element Method” in a paper in 1960.

After earning a BS degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in his home town Seattle, Ray Clough first served in the Air Force’s weather service and in an engineer aviation unit, before he could finish his graduate studies at MIT with a PhD. He accepted a position as Assistant Professor at the Civil Engineering Department at UC Berkeley in 1949. Since his MIT curriculum included a course in Dynamics of Aircraft Dynamics his teaching should emphasize the dynamic response of structures to earthquake excitation. This topic became the main area for a very successful career in science and application. Since the dynamics for earthquake engineering was not at all developed at that time he applied to the Boeing Summer Faculty Program in 1952 where he was assigned to the Structural Dynamics group supervised by Jon Turner. Clough’s job was to analyze the vibration properties of a ‘delta’ wing structure. The model using 1D beam structures turned out to be inappropriate, so a year later he followed Turner’s suggestion applying 2D plate elements. As an outcome of this cooperation of two ingenious engineers the often cited so-called ‘first paper in the history of FEM’ was written in 1953 but published not until 1956.

Although Ray Clough mentions in one of his recollections that Turner “essentially defined the concept of the FEM” he was the person who introduced and developed the method in the academic world. He realized the increasing potential of modern computers in performing powerful structural analyses not being possible the years before. Professor Clough was a great inspiration to his colleagues and in particular to a new generation of students. It was the golden age of the famous Berkeley Finite Element School which not only produced a large number of excellent scientists in this field but also attracted innumerable scholars from all areas of the world. Many of us benefitted from this unique research atmosphere which can be traced back to a great deal to Ray Clough’s outstanding personality.
According to his own recollection Ray Clough referred to the successful works of his young colleagues in the development of the FEM and stated that he "used the method continually to gain understanding of the behavior to be expected in a given structural system"; in other words relatively early he concentrated again on his main subject earthquake engineering and became also a leader in this field. So he could exploit the enormous capabilities of the new computational method which he essentially developed. The establishment of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center at Berkeley is credited to Professor Clough. He derived fundamental concepts for dynamic analyses of tall buildings and dam structures which became the basis for standards, design and commercial computer codes. The treatise Dynamics of Structures, co-authored with J. Penzien in 1975, became a basic textbook used in many countries. Being an authority in earthquake engineering he served as consultant for many high-rise buildings in the Bay Area leading to a fundamental change in the seismic design of structures in the early 1970ies. Of his many distinctions we would like to mention only the memberships in the National Academies of Sciences and of Engineering, the National Medal of Science and the Benjamin Franklin Medal. He taught at Berkeley until his retirement in 1987, when he moved to Oregon where he spent the remaining years.
Clough had a close relationship to many colleagues and friends in Europe where he regularly spent his sabbaticals, in particular in Norway,  and attended also ECCOMAS Conferences, so the ECCM 1999 in Munich and the Vienna Congress in 2004. We also would like to mention that he was awarded the Prince Philip Medal of the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.
Ray Clough was an outstanding scholar and great person in our scientific community. Most people will remember him as one of the great pioneers of the Finite Element Method, as the man who coined the name of this powerful method. However it would not do justice to him if we would not equally acknowledge his distinguished achievements in the development and application of earthquake engineering.  

Ekkehard Ramm