Joe Smith, Jr.
Joe Smith, Jr. – Remembrance
May 28, 2013 (PO18). We regret to report that Dr. Joseph (Joe) LeConte Smith Jr., the Samuel C. Collins Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT) and retired Director of the MIT Cryogenic Engineering Laboratory, died on May 7, 2013, at the age of 83.
Born in Macon, Georgia on September 4, 1929, he attended Georgia Institute of Technology, receiving a BME degree in 1952, and an MS degree in 1953. He then served in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army, before beginning his graduate work at MIT in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. Starting as an instructor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1956, he rose through the academic ranks to become Ford Professor of Engineering in 1991. In 1994, he was the first faculty member to hold the Samuel P. Collins Senior Faculty Chair, named after the founder of the MIT Cryogenic Engineering Laboratory, which Joe directed from 1964 until his retirement in 2008.
He was a consummate mechanical engineer who made innovative contributions to both education and research. In 1967, he introduced an innovative approach to undergraduate education in thermodynamics that prevails to this day. In graduate thermodynamics, he brought the thermodynamics subject into the 21st century.
In collaboration with Ernest Cravalho, he developed the textbook Engineering Thermodynamics. Joe was famous for his hands-on approach to engineering. He viewed the world as a problem in engineering design — so much so that when asked why any given natural phenomenon took the form found in nature, his standard reply was, “Because that’s the way I would build it.”
Smith’s research spanned fundamental areas of thermodynamics, heat transfer, electromagnetics, and cryogenics, and he was able to integrate these diverse fields to advance the practice of engineering. His success in this process was perhaps best manifested in his work with Gerald Wilson, on the development of the superconducting generator. Stimulated by the first exploratory study by Woodson, Stekly et al., Smith and Wilson successfully demonstrated in 1968 a small vertical shaft alternator with a superconducting field winding and room-temperature armature. The publication of this milestone work lead to multiple industrial efforts, which continue successfully until today, now with high-Tc windings. In recognition of Joe’s many contributions to the practice of mechanical engineering, he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Among his other awards, he was also the Franklin Institute Laureate in Engineering (1987).
He served as a technical consultant to various corporations as well as start-up ventures. He also held many patents. After retirement in 2008, he continued to contribute his time to MIT and its cryogenic lab. In addition to being an accomplished academic, he was also a skilled mechanic and carpenter. He will be remembered for always eagerly volunteering his knowledge and expertise. At a recent symposium in his honor at MIT, many former students spoke of his influence on their careers.
Note: Cold Facts, the Newsletter of the Cryogenic Society of America (CSA) features tributes to Dr. Smith in their Summer 2013 issue. Please click here to read these tributes.