January 13, 2021
University of California San Diego engineering professor emeritus Siavouche "Sia" Nemat-Nasser passed away on January 4, 2021 due to complications of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He was 84 years old.
Professor Nemat-Nasser was a Distinguished Professor of Mechanics and Materials in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. He officially retired from UC San Diego in 2019 but remained active as a researcher through his Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials (CEAM).
He was born in Tehran, Iran, and immigrated to the US in 1958 to complete his undergraduate degree at Sacramento State College (now University). He earned his MS and PhD degrees from UC Berkeley in 1961 and 1964, respectively.
He joined the UC San Diego faculty twice, first from 1966 to 1970. He went on to a brilliant 15-year career at Northwestern University. He then returned to the UC San Diego faculty in 1985 where he served as the Director of CEAM until his retirement.
Upon his return to UC San Diego, he set out to create a materials science program, which included helping to recruit a series of young and talented scholars. He went on to serve as the Founding Director of the Materials Science and Engineering Program, which remains an integrated campus-wide graduate degree program that has achieved global recognition. Nemat-Nasser also initiated a program on the mechanical behavior of materials. Both programs became magnets for researchers globally, and recognition by the community followed, along with support from the National Science Foundation which funded the Institute for Mechanics and Materials at UC San Diego where Nemat-Nasser played an important role.
In many contexts and with many different material types, he studied how materials fail and why. His work enabled the design of more resistant, useful, and safer materials for a wide range of applications, including building materials for civil infrastructure; materials for space stations that can withstand meteorite impacts; and materials for biotechnology and defense.
Renowned both as a strong theoretician and innovative experimentalist, he studied a broad range of advanced materials including ceramics, ceramic composites, high strength alloys and superalloys, rocks and geomaterials, and advanced metallic and polymeric composites with electromagnetic, self-healing, and self-sensing functionality; ionic polymer-metal composites as soft actuators/sensors, and shape-memory alloys.
In addition, Nemat-Nasser and his research teams developed or co-developed many of the novel research instruments used in their laboratories.
Over a prolific academic career, he published more than 500 scientific articles which have over 33,000 citations according to Google Scholar.
Nemat-Nasser served as Founding editor in chief of the journal Mechanics of Materials, a position he held for 37 years until his retirement. He also authored, co-authored or edited over 20 books and proceedings including the book series Mechanics Today and the book series Mechanics of Elastic and Inelastic Solids. Notable scholarly works include his book Micromechanics: Overall Properties of Heterogeneous Materials (with co-author M. Hori), and Plasticity, A Treatise on Finite Deformation of Heterogeneous Inelastic Materials.
In 2001, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for pioneering micromechanical modeling and novel experimental evaluations of the responses and failure of modes of heterogeneous solids and structures. Among his numerous honors, he received the highest awards in mechanics, the Timoshenko Medal in 2008, and the ASME Gold Medal in 2013 (see video).
Teaching and mentoring were crucial to Nemat-Nasser. He advised more than 70 PhD students and 30 post-doctoral researchers during his career, and throughout, taught undergraduate courses in mechanics and mathematics. In 2015 he was awarded the UC San Diego Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award for his teaching of undergraduate students which integrated inventive and alternative teaching methods that were simple yet highly effective.
In a 2008 UCSD TV video segment, he expressed his passion for teaching and training future generations of researchers. He relished the process of working with graduate students who then would be intellectual partners from whom he could learn. Many of his former students and postdocs have become leaders in the field of mechanics.
Academic awards that bear Sia Nemat-Nasser's name have been created with both the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) focused on underrepresented minorities and women in engineering, and the Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM).
In 2016, Nemat-Nasser and his wife Éva generously established the Roghieh Chehre-Azad Distinguished Professorship within the UC San Diego Division of Arts and Humanities to foster new projects and future works exploring the music, art, literature and history of Persian culture at UC San Diego.
At the time, Nemat-Nasser noted that the gift served to honor his mother "Chehre-Azad,” a well-known actor in Iran who pursued her passion of acting at great personal risk when women performing on stage in Iran was taboo.
He was fond of the Persian poets Ferdowsi, and Omar Khayyam, who also was a great mathematician and astronomer. Nemat-Nasser himself translated poetry from Farsi to English. He also wrote his own poetry in Farsi, illustrated it, and translated it into English.
A person of great energy, discipline, and dedication, he swam for one hour every day until 2018. In past years, he was known to enter La Jolla Cove at night and swim alone in the ocean, to the dismay of his wife Éva.
Nemat-Nasser is survived by his wife Éva, six children: Michaela, Elizabeth, Katherine, David, Syrus, Shiba, and grandchildren: Lilith, DJ, Jack, and Arastoo.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Roghieh Chehre-Azad Distinguished Professorship at UC San Diego (K3993).