Faculty image James Oscroft Wilkes Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus Chemical Engineering

       James ("Jim") Wilkes, University of Michigan Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus, was born in 1932 in Southampton, England, and—after the first few air-raids on his home-town—lived in the hilly sheep county of Shropshire during the Second World War.  As a chemical-engineering student at Emmanuel College, he obtained his bachelor's degree from the University of Cambridge in 1955.  At Emmanuel College, he was Secretary of the Musical Society, Captain of the Table-Tennis Club, and Vice-President of the Thomas Young Club; he was also President of the University of Cambridge Chemical Engineering Society.  The English-Speaking Union awarded him a King George VI Memorial Fellowship to the University of Michigan (MSE 1956, PhD 1963).  In chemical engineering, he was a faculty member at the University of Cambridge from 1956 to 1960, and at the University of Michigan from 1960 to 2000.  At Michigan, he was department chairman from 1971 to 1977, and Assistant Dean for Admissions in the College of Engineering from 1989 to 1994.   He received the highest University of Michigan honors for classroom teaching—the Amoco Good Teaching Award (1987) and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship (1989).  His research interests are in numerical methods, polymer processing, and computational fluid mechanics.

       Jim was a student in Fall 1955 in the first-ever U-M digital computing course, taught by Bernie Galler and using the IBM 650 computer, with punched-card input/output, 2,000 words of drum memory, and biquinary arithmetic. After returning from England in 1960, he and his colleague and good friend, Brice Carnahan, were inspired by their faculty mentor, Don Katz, to "write up a few notes" on numerical methods to conclude Don's huge 1959–1963 Ford Foundation project, "The Use of Computers in Engineering Education."  The result was their landmark 621-page book, Applied Numerical Methods, published by John Wiley in 1969.

       Jim was a pioneer in the numerical solution of partial differential equations, which featured prominently in the research of his 21 doctoral students, usually in tandem with experimental investigations into polymer processing, turbulence, two-phase flow, stability of paint films, metal castings, crystal growth, paint sprays, heat transfer, and natural-gas storage.  But he was at least equally enthusiastic about classroom teaching—particularly in fluid mechanics and numerical methods.  For about 25 years, Jim and Brice Carnahan were responsible for running the freshman digital-computing courses in the U-M College of Engineering, and in this connection they wrote many books (often updated every year) on the available computing hardware and software.

       Jim received his organ performance diploma, Associate of the Trinity College of Music (London), in 1951, and his Service-Playing Certificate from the American Guild of Organists in 1981.  In addition to music, his hobbies include hiking in North Wales, New Zealand, and the American West; cycling; gardening; reading; and writing. He is author of Pipe Organs of Ann Arbor (1995), A Century of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan (2002), and coauthor of Applied Numerical Methods (Wiley, 1969) and Digital Computing and Numerical Methods (Wiley, 1973). The second edition of his most recent book, Fluid Mechanics for Chemical Engineers, was published by Prentice Hall in 2006.  He is currently (2011) editing his grandfather Alfred Oscroft's large and beautifully illustrated manuscript from the 1920s and 1930s, Place-Names of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. In this work, Alfred traced the names of all the hamlets, villages, and towns in the county to their origins, almost invariably Anglo-Saxon.

Curriculum Vitae

       My decision in 1960 was the most important of my life, and one that I have never regretted.  It was to move from my faculty position at the University of Cambridge to the Chemical Engineering Department at Michigan, where I enjoyed 40 happy years until retirement in 2000.   I worked in the East Engineering Building until 1982, when the department moved to the new H.H. Dow Building on North Campus.

       Don Katz of natural-gas-engineering fame was our chairman from 1951–1962, and he and my doctoral advisor, Stuart Churchill, were major influences in my research career, which was largely based on the numerical solution of partial differential equations and their application to a wide variety of important practical ChE problems.  It was Don's suggestion that led to the publication by John Wiley in 1969 (with coauthors Brice Carnahan and H.A. Luther) of our pioneering and successful book, Applied Numerical Methods.  Brice and I subsequently taught one or more numerical methods courses for the next 30 years, attracting a significant enrollment from departments beyond chemical engineering.

       I always desired to do the best possible teaching job in the classroom, and maintained up-to-date sets of notes for the students, which—with encouragement from my colleague Scott Fogler—eventually led to the Prentice-Hall 1999 publication of my book, Fluid Mechanics for Chemical Engineers, with a substantially revised and expanded second edition in 2006.  Significant features—especially of the second edition—were strong emphases on practical situations, particularly those involving flow in equipment, turbulence, two-phase flow and fluidization, microfluidics, and computational fluid dynamics—in my case, employing COMSOL Multiphysics software. 

       Our ChE department had hoped to have a history book ready for our centennial in 1998, but the attempts by two outside editors were miserable failures.   I "volunteered" to take over the job, and—after 640 pages and 560 photographs—decided in 2002 that it was time to stop.  The resulting hardcover book, A Century of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, has been extremely well received by our alumni.

     When I retired in 2000, I was overwhelmed by the establishment of a scholarship fund bearing my name, only the second time in our department's history that this had been done for a living faculty member (the first was for my good friend and colleague, Brymer Williams, who retired in 1983). Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends, the James O. Wilkes Scholarship Fund has now reached a very substantial endowment.  In making the awards, we give strong weight to those undergraduates who are helping to pay their own way through college—by working long hours beyond their studies.

       Because I'm an amateur organist, I have established a close friendship with the chair of the U-M Organ Department in the School of Music, the indomitable Marilyn Mason.  I was flattered when she asked me to be the MC of a very large October 2007 dinner honoring her record 60 years as a tenured U-M faculty member.  I was not quite so pleased when she asked me to produce a DVD about her—the fifth in a series of famous organists, promoted by the American Guild of Organists.  I had no previous experience of producing a DVD, but I was a fast learner, and thanks to hiring an excellent videographer, Joe Yunkman, we published a first-rate disc in one year, 2009.  The DVD runs for 126 minutes, with three cameras running, and has four main parts: my 25-minute interview with Marilyn (which went straight through with no retakes), six 5-minute reminiscences by Marilyn's colleagues and former students, four organ performances by Marilyn, and lessons with five of her students.

       I thank all my colleagues, and especially our students, for giving me such happy memories of my days at Michigan.


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