Obituaries: George Fix

May 3, 2002


George Fix, 1939-2002

George Fix died on March 10, 2002, at the age of 62. George will be remembered as a pioneer in finite element methods and phase field methods, and for numerous other contributions to numerical analysis and applied mathematics. He also distinguished himself as the chairman of three mathematics departments, each of which improved substantially under his leadership, and as a caring adviser and mentor to graduate students and junior mathematicians.

George grew up in Dallas and received a BS from Texas A & M University and an MS from Rice University. He completed his PhD at Harvard in 1968, with Garrett Birkhoff as his adviser, and stayed at Harvard as an assistant professor until 1972. While in Cambridge, he had the good fortune of meeting up with Gil Strang. Together, they not only wrote a seminal paper about the Fourier analysis of finite element methods, but they also wrote a book, An Analysis of the Finite Element Method, that became one of the most important and influential applied mathematics books ever published.

A series of positions followed, at the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Clemson University. In the last three instances, George served as chairman of the mathematics departments. For a number of years, he made extended visits to the University of Bonn. He also consulted for industrial and governmental organizations, including, among many, Westinghouse, Schlumberger, General Motors, ICASE, the Institute for Computational Mechanics in Propulsion at NASA, the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

George is best known for his work in finite element methods. This is not surprising, since he wrote (or co-wrote) the first (or one of the first) papers on finite element methods for eigenvalue problems, finite element methods for time-dependent problems, the effects of quadrature errors on finite element approximations, finite element methods for problems with singularities, mixed and hybrid finite element methods, least-squares finite element methods, and finite element methods for problems of mixed type. He also wrote many papers on approximation theory as it relates to finite element methods and contributed to the understanding of iterative methods, grid generation, and integral equations in the context of finite element methods.

George also made significant contributions to the theory and practice of numerical approximations in several application areas, including incompressible, compressible, and transonic flows, solid mechanics, acoustics, materials science, and jets and sprays. He is well known as one of the co-developers of phase field methods for multiphase problems and for the development of numerical methods for such problems. He also made significant contributions to computational geometry, especially to the modeling of developable surfaces.

George had a second concurrent and distinguished career as a practitioner and scientist in the brewing of beer. His own home brews won countless regional and national sanctioned competitions, and he was named Homebrewer of the Year in 1981 by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). He wrote three books on beer, two with his wife, Laurie, and the other a scientific treatise titled Principles of Brewing Science, which has gone through two editions and which is a standard reference among amateur and especially professional brewers.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Recognition Award by the Association of Brewers in 1991 and the Ninkasi award by the AHA in 1997, the highest honors bestowed by these organizations. He also served as a consultant for brew pubs and gave numerous lectures all over the country to aficionados of the brewing arts and sciences. I can personally attest to the quality of his beer-it is simply the best I ever tasted. I also recall accompanying George on some of his many visits to the Pittsburgh Brewing Company (the brewers of Iron City Beer and, for many years, where Samuel Adams was actually brewed) and, every time, looking on amazed when the brewmasters there asked George for advice.

Two other passions in George's life were sports and classical music. He actually started his collegiate career on a baseball scholarship, and he maintained a great interest in many sports, both as participant and spectator. Certainly, everyone who knew him recalls his dedication to running.

But music was a special passion. George had the largest collection of records (and later of CDs) of anyone I have personally known. Beyond that, he catalogued, in piles of loose-leaf binders, professional reviews and his own extensive notes about every record he owned. He could wax eloquent (and accurate) about the differences in interpretation and performance between different recordings of the same work, and he could recognize, just from hearing a few bars of a recording, the particular artist playing or conducting a piece.

If I may end on a personal note, George and I shared many interests. We both had a predilection for Callas and Furtwangler and Tristan. We both loved sports, beer, and math. But in none of them could I match George's passion, and I could hardly match his passion for life and for his friends and for those he loved. I'll remember George as he appears in the picture that accompanies these words---with a big smile to go along with his big heart.---Max Gunzburger, Iowa State University.


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