Engineering News

Professor Emeritus Leon M. Keer Passes Away

A prolific researcher, Keer was an expert on engineering mechanics and tribology

Leon M. Keer, Walter P. Murphy Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, passed away on January 12, 2021, at age 86. He will be remembered as a dedicated teacher, a prolific researcher, and a beloved member of the Northwestern Engineering community.

A Los Angeles native, Keer earned his bachelor's degree in engineering and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, and his PhD in aeronautics and engineering mechanics from the University of Minnesota. After serving as a NATO postdoctoral fellow at Newcastle University in England in 1962, Keer spent a year at Columbia University as a preceptor. In 1964, he joined the McCormick School of Engineering as an assistant professor of civil engineering.

Leon M. KeerKeer’s research interests focused on engineering mechanics and tribology. A prolific researcher in the mechanical engineering and civil engineering departments, he published nearly 400 scholarly articles on topics such as elasticity, fracture mechanics, and contact stress in structural materials. He also served as editor of the Journal of Applied Mechanics and associate editor of the Journal of the Engineering Mechanics Division, Mechanics of Materials, and Mechanics Research Communications.

“Leon will be missed by his colleagues and friends as both a world-class scholar and a kind human being,” said Wei Chen, Wilson-Cook Professor in Engineering Design and professor and chair of mechanical engineering, “He contributed so much to the growing stature of the mechanical engineering department, and his unrelentingly positive attitude will serve as a blessing and inspiration for future scholars.”

During a five-decade career at Northwestern Engineering, Keer was an active member of the community. He taught more than a dozen classes on mechanics and structures, while also serving on numerous McCormick and University committees. An adviser to 55 PhD students and 22 master’s students, Keer also served as Northwestern Engineering’s associate dean for research and graduate studies from 1985-92 and was chair of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1992-97.

“Leon was a wonderful and supportive colleague,” said Kimberly Gray, professor and Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Family Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Even after he retired, he still attended faculty meetings and offered me advice as a former department chair. Leon was one of the greats in our solid mechanics research area. I speak for the entire department when I say he will be fondly remembered and deeply missed.”

Keer was awarded numerous honors throughout his career, including being elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1997. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Mechanics, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Acoustical Society of America. He received multiple awards from ASME, including the organization’s Tribology Division Innovative Research Award, the Daniel C. Drucker Medal, and the Mayo D. Hersey Award.

“Leon was one of the giants in the field of elasticity and mechanics and made many significant contributions to our community as a researcher, teacher, and administrator,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering. “He was also one of the kindest colleagues I have ever met and was incredibly supportive of young faculty. He was always at peace with himself, which made him beloved by so many.”

A virtual memorial service will be held Friday, January 15 at 12:30 p.m. CST. More details about the service can be found at Chicago Jewish Funerals.