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UI Legacy of Iowa Engineering Inducts Landweber

Posted on April 27th, 2017

A tribute and remembrance of Lou Landweber, who was recently
inducted into the UI Legacy of Iowa Engineering

IIHR's Lou Landweber was known for welcoming colleagues—whether students, faculty, or staff—into his office.

IIHR’s Lou Landweber was known for welcoming colleagues—whether students, faculty, or staff—into his office.

Lou Landweber could really spot talent.

In 1970, V.C. Patel was looking for a job. His position at Lockheed Martin in Georgia had ended. Patel and his wife liked life in the United States, but where to go next? Patel wrote three letters seeking a position — one of them to Lou Landweber at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering (then the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research).

Landweber responded almost immediately with a handwritten note inviting Patel to come to IIHR to present a seminar. “Lou and Mae picked me up at the airport,” Patel remembers. “They took me to a Chinese restaurant—they made me feel so welcome.” He gave a seminar about computational fluid dynamics (CFD) with relation to aerospace. “Nothing to do with hydraulics or ships!” Patel laughs.

But even so, Landweber saw the potential in Patel’s work. Patel was working on the boundary layers of airplanes, and Landweber immediately saw how this could be applied to ships. He wrote an encouraging note to Patel promising to speak to then-IIHR Director Jack Kennedy as soon as he returned from vacation.

“Within a couple of weeks, I got a telegram offering me a job—from Jack Kennedy!” Patel says. “Can you believe that? Whoever can respond that fast deserves my attention.” Patel went on to serve IIHR for decades, culminating as director from 1994–2004.

A Fascination with Ships

Although Landweber died almost two decades ago, he is remembered fondly by his many friends and colleagues at IIHR. Always kind, calm, friendly, and unassuming, Landweber had the ability to get along with everyone. He always made time to meet and talk with visitors to IIHR. These warm encounters conveyed the closeness of the IIHR community, as well as its pride and its place in the world of engineering.

Lou Landweber was born in 1912 in New York City. He graduated from City College of New York in the dark days of the Great Depression with a BS in mathematics (later, he earned an MS and a PhD, both in physics). Nevertheless, he found work as a junior physicist at the U.S. Experimental Model Basin in the Washington Navy Yard (later renamed the David Taylor Model Basin). The staff there built and tested models of ships, work that would fascinate Landweber for the rest of his life.

Landweber was appointed head of the hydrodynamics division at the David Taylor Model Basin in 1940. In 1947, the U.S. Navy presented him with the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his World War II research efforts, primarily on minesweeping problems.

In 1954, then-IIHR Director Hunter Rouse invited Landweber to IIHR to assume the role of researcher and professor of mechanics and hydraulics. To sweeten the deal, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) funded the conversion of one of IIHR’s basement river channels into a large ship towing tank, one of only a few such facilities in the nation at that time.

The Father of Ship Hydrodynamics at IIHR

Landweber felt that academics suited him much better than civil service work, and he happily set to work as a researcher, educator, and innovator in the field of ship hydrodynamics at the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. His influence on IIHR was transformative. Landweber, who never considered himself an engineer, developed a strong theoretical and experimental research program in ship hydrodynamics that has continued to the present day and likely into the future. Under his guidance, IIHR became a national leader in research related to naval architecture and ship hydrodynamics, with continued financial support from the ONR.

With his colleagues, Landweber carried out a variety of research projects related to ship hydrodynamics, including analysis of wakes, drag of truncated bodies, ship vibration, ship rolling, resistance from waves, and studies of turbulence and cavitation. Landweber focused particularly on wave and viscous resistance, with groundbreaking work on the ideal-flow theory and its application to ship hydrodynamics.

He was also among the first to explore the potential of computational fluid dynamics. These early efforts in the 1960s would provide a foundation for later work at IIHR. Landweber would lay out the problem—usually classical equation-solving problems—and Matilde Macagno would program it. Together, they would solve the problem, using her computer expertise and his analytical knowledge.

A Real Sweetheart

Landweber’s career at the institute was among the longest in its history. Even after his retirement and well into his 80s, he continued to secure grant funding, conduct research, publish papers, and mentor graduate students. Landweber was a generous mentor, freely offering his time and support to colleagues and students. His deep integrity and his technical stature impressed and influenced those around him. Always soft-spoken and helpful, he would invite visitors requesting his help into his office, where together they would talk through a problem step by step. He ushered more than 50 MS and PhD students through their studies. They remember his integrity, warmth, support, and humor—characteristics that rival even his vast technical achievements in their recollection.

Lou and Mae Landweber at an IIHR picnic with Director V.C. Patel (left).

Lou and Mae Landweber at a lab picnic with IIHR Director V.C. Patel (left).

“He was a very dear man,” Patel remembers with a smile. Landweber’s successor in ship hydrodynamics at IIHR, Fred Stern, agrees. “He was a real sweetheart. He was always a very helpful and kind fellow, from a different era.”

When Landweber died in 1998, it was a loss that profoundly shook the entire IIHR family. Stern memorialized Landweber at the funeral: “[It is] a pain that is deep, unending, and without explanation, but somehow accompanied by simultaneous feelings of happiness, joy, and pride for having known—as a close friend, surrogate father, and mentor—such a man as Lou Landweber.”

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