Clifford A. Truesdell III, 80, acclaimed for work in rational mechanics

January 19, 2000|By Edward Gunts and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Edward Gunts and Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Clifford Ambrose Truesdell III, a retired Johns Hopkins University mathematician who received international acclaim for his work in rational mechanics, died Friday of heart failure at Keswick Multi-Care Center in Roland Park. He was 80.

Regarded as the founder of the modern science of rational mechanics, which applies advanced mathematical techniques to the theoretical study of the behavior of solids, liquids and gases, Dr. Truesdell's work concentrated on fluid dynamics, elasticity, thermodynamics and the history of those subjects.

A prolific mathematician, Dr. Truesdell wrote or co-wrote 26 books, 268 papers and many book reviews. Fluent in English, French, German, Italian, Latin and ancient Greek, he wrote papers in all those languages but ancient Greek.

Dr. Truesdell's last book, "Introduction to the Mechanics of Fluids," arrived at his Guilford residence last week, said family members.

"He brought a tremendous mathematical rigor and sense of historical perspective to a field that forms the basis of mechanical engineering today," said Andrew Douglas, associate dean for academic affairs at Hopkins and former chairman of the mechanical engineering department.

"He is one of the few people who made a lifelong study of rational mechanics -- how materials behave. He also was a pioneer in thermodynamics. His most significant contribution was to go back and put rational mechanics in a rigorous mathematic framework. His writings forced people to do things right and rationally."

From 1950 to 1961, Dr. Truesdell was professor of mathematics at Indiana University. From 1961 until his retirement in 1989, he was professor of rational mechanics at Hopkins.

He had visiting professorships or lectured at more than 40 universities.

Among his books are "The Classical Field Theories" (with R. Toupin); "The Non-Linear Field Theories of Mechanics" (with W. Noll); and "An Idiot's Fugitive Essays on Science: Methods, Criticism, Training, Circumstances."

Dr. Truesdell was co-founder and co-editor of The Journal of Rational Mechanics and Analysis from 1952 to 1956. He founded Archive for Rational Mechanics in 1957 and edited it until 1990. In 1960, he founded Archive for History of Exact Sciences, which he edited until 1997. In 1962, he founded Springer Tracts in Natural Philosophy.

He was a member of a number of academies of science, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1972, he was elected to the Lynchaean Academy in Rome, the oldest in the world.

Dr. Douglas said Dr. Truesdell was knowledgeable in many other fields, ranging from English silverware to Italian architecture.

"He really was a Renaissance man. He was wonderful to work with," he said.

Dr. Truesdell was described as a "short, stocky, rather imperious-looking man" who resembled a "pudgier, less playful version of Truman Capote" in a 1978 Sunday Sun Magazine profile.

Dr. Truesdell collected paintings and silver. He invited musicians and dancers to perform in his home, a granite and brick Palladian structure on a slight hill in Guilford, and often invited friends to attend candlelight musicales. For these soirees, Dr. Truesdell dressed in 18th-century attire, including a lace collar that had been made by his grandmother. His wife would be similarly attired.

"They were a seamless totality and complimented each other. Their home was an ongoing work of art, and if you were there for an event, it was not easily forgotten," said Gary Vikan, director of Walters Art Gallery.

Dr. Truesdell was born in Los Angeles and attended public schools there, graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1936.

After spending two years in England, he enrolled at the California Institute of Technology, from which he received a bachelor's degrees in mathematics and physics in 1941.

He earned a master's degree in science from Caltech in 1942 and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University in 1943.

From 1944 to 1946, he was a member of the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was the chief of the theoretical mechanics subdivision of the U.S. Naval Ordinance Laboratory from 1946 to 1948, and head of the theoretical mechanics section at the Naval Research Laboratory from 1948 to 1950.

Dr. Truesdell's first marriage, to Beverly Poland in 1939, ended in divorce in 1950. In 1951, he married Charlotte Janice Brudno.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Clifford A. Truesdell IV of Cambridge, Mass., and two grandsons.

Funeral services will be private.

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