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Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus Freudenstein Dies

Ferdinand Freudenstein (GSAS'54), the Higgins Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, died on March 30. He was 80 years old.

Known as the "father of modern kinematics" and the "father of modern machine and mechanisms science," Freudenstein ushered in the digital computation era of kinematics, the study of motion and the forces that produce it. He had great influence in the field and taught at Columbia for more than 40 years. Many of his students, and their students, continue to research and teach kinematics.

Larry Yao, departmental chair of mechanical engineering, paid respect to Freudenstein at the funeral on March 31, saying, "Ferdinand's biggest legacy is nearly 200 Ph.D. children and grandchildren. ... More than 100 universities around the world have faculty from the 'Freudenstein family tree.'"

A landmark paper, published in 1955, established Freudenstein as the pioneer of analytical synthesis techniques. The methods outlined in the paper are still the most widely used for the design of four-bar function generating linkages, the simplest possible closed-loop mechanism. They include equations that describe the characteristics of four-bar linkages--known universally as "Freudenstein Equations." The equations enable engineers to use computer models to diagram a specific motion and solve problems previously thought unsolvable.

Bahram Ravani, a professor at the University of California, Davis and a former student of Freudenstein's said, "Professor Freudenstein was a giant in the field of mechanical design with many very significant and lasting contributions. He was a true scholar, a respected mentor and a valued colleague. He will be missed in the academic community."

Costas Grigoropoulos, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, added, "I took all his courses and still have his excellent notes. I remember him with great admiration and respect as a true giant in his field and also very fondly as a wonderful person."

In a career that spanned more than 45 years of innovation and creativity, Freudenstein published more than 135 journal articles and received nine patents and countless accolades, including election to the National Academy of Engineering and two Guggenheim Fellowships. Freudenstein also received the Egleston Medal, the Columbia Engineering School Alumni Association's highest honor.

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Published: Apr 11, 2006
Last modified: Apr 11, 2006