On Jan. 23, 2014, the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science lost a respected scholar, mentor, educator and administrator.
David W. Nicholson, Ph.D., emeritus professor, joined UCF in 1990 as chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). He retired after 20 years of service to UCF, during which he served nearly nine years as chair or interim chair of MAE.
Dr. Nicholson is credited with overseeing the creation and realization of Materials Science and Engineering program at UCF, and the Masters in Aerospace Engineering program.
“He always had a forward-looking vision for the department, always promoting the ‘next big thing’ for MAE and ever keeping the department ahead of the game,” said Challapalli Suryanarayana, MAE chair. “He relentlessly promoted the interests of mechanics, aerospace engineering, thermo-fluids, materials, and notably bioengineering well before the latter became a college-wide initiative.”
He is known for his devotion to the integrity of MAE’s academic programs, particularly in computational engineering.
“It is due to him that MAE students, both undergraduate and graduate, are exposed to a strong and comprehensive modern engineering computational program that features finite element analysis, computational thermo-fluids, solid modeling and CAD-CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided modeling),” Dr. Suryanarayana said.
Dr. Nicholson’s research focused on non-linear mechanics, the finite element method, and fracture mechanics. He authored 158 journal papers, a successful textbook, Non-linear Finite Element Method, and numerous monographs and conference papers. He also served as technical editor of Applied Mechanics Reviews and associate editor of Tire Science and Technology.
As an educator, Dr. Nicholson was the linchpin of the mechanical systems track in MAE, teaching undergraduate and graduate levels. He regularly offered a rigorous graduate course in continuum mechanics, and he introduced a two-course graduate sequence in finite elements, which he taught until retirement. He also introduced a graduate course in fracture mechanics.
Dr. Nicholson earned his Ph.D. at Yale in 1971, addressing theoretical issues in dynamic elasticity describing response of metals under rapidly applied high loads. He held several notable positions in industry and government prior to joining academia, including Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, from 1971 to 1977, and at the Naval Surface Weapons Center in White Oak, Md., from 1978 to 1984. From 1984 to 1990, he was associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology.
In memorial tributes recently posted and circulated by colleagues, Dr. Nicholson is being remembered for his likable personality and positive attitude.
One colleague writes: “He maintained a most jovial and inspirational attitude. Professor Nicholson was always upbeat, happy and exhibited the can-do and creative approach to tackling any problem be it administrative, pedagogical or intellectual; and that, along with his infectious and boisterous laugh, was the hallmark of his chairmanship and professorship.
“Professor Nicholson touched many lives at UCF.”