Engineering News

Emeritus Professor Bernard J. Matkowsky Passes Away

World-renowned mathematician helped found the Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics

Bernard J. Matkowsky, John Evans Professor Emeritus of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, professor emeritus of mathematics, and (by courtesy) professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at Northwestern Engineering, passed away at age 80 on Thursday, June 11Matkowsky was one of the founding members of the Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics (ESAM).

A member of the McCormick School of Engineering’s faculty since 1977 before retiring in 2018, Matkowsky was a world-renowned mathematician. His research interests included asymptotic and perturbation methods, bifurcation and stability, nonlinear dynamics and pattern formation, combustion, and stochastic dynamical systems. From 1993 until 1999, Matkowsky served as ESAM department chair. 

Bernard J. Matkowsky

“Bernie had a huge influence on the formation of ESAM. Most of the faculty currently in the department, including myself, owe their being chosen to join Northwestern to the high esteem he enjoyed in the eyes of his peers who encouraged their best young students and postdocs to apply to ESAM,” said David Chopp, professor and chair of ESAM. “He was a fierce advocate for the department over the more than 40 years he served in the department, including six years as department chair. There is no question that the ESAM department is a leading department in applied mathematics in large part to Bernie’s efforts both as a scientist and as a faculty member. He will be sorely missed.”

Throughout his career, Matkowsky made important contributions in asymptotic analysis for both deterministic and stochastic problems and in mathematical combustion. He consulted at Argonne National Laboratory and Exxon Research and Engineering, among others.

In 2017, Matkowsky received the John von Neumann Lecture Prize from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and was an Institute for Scientific Information Highly Cited Researcher. He received several awards and honors, including Guggenheim and Fulbright-Hays Fellowships. He was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Mechanics, American Physical Society, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

“His work has generated fields of inquiry for pure mathematicians, activated opportunities for experimentalists, and created new fields in applied mathematics,” read the nomination letter for the John von Neumann Lecture Prize. “It is no exaggeration to say that he is a giant among applied mathematicians worldwide.”

An editor of many academic journals, Matkowsky was also a prolific writer, with more than 250 published papers. His recent work included the survey article, Singular Perturbations in Noisy Dynamical Systems, published in 2018 in the European Journal of Applied Mathematics. His papers had concentrations in singular perturbation methods, combustion, including combustion synthesis of materials, bifurcation theory, pattern formation, escape problems, including activated rate theory, and queueing theory.

Born August 19, 1939, Matkowsky earned his bachelor’s of science from City College of New York in 1960. He obtained two master’s degrees and a PhD from New York University. He started his academic career in 1966 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, before moving to Northwestern.

Matkowsky is survived by his wife Florence “Fraydie” Matkowsky, two sons, one daughter, six grandchildren, one brother, and one sister. A private graveside service was held June 11 at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. Memorial contributions may be made to: American Friends of Yeshivat Hesder Shiloh, care of Beis Midrash, 17 Fort George Hill, Apartment 7J, New York, New York 10040 (www.bmofq.org).