Friday, June 13, 2008

Remembering Dr. Liviu Librescu, hero of the April, 2007 Virginia Tech disaster

Louis and I visited the University Politehnica of Bucharest to pay our respects to Dr. Liviu Librescu, an alumnus of that school. When I was head of interlibrary loan at Virginia Tech's Library, our department worked closely with Dr. Librescu to get his research materials. He was a gentleman every day--kind and grateful for our efforts. We met with Vice Rector of the University, Dr. Corneliu Burileanu, who knew the Virginia Tech story well, and avowed that he felt proud to be a Romanian that day (with a clear implication that he's not always so proud, similar to the way we feel about being Americans). He also told of a Bucharest earthquake in 1990 when he, too, had to keep his head and help his students survive. He was humble about this event in comparison to that of Dr. Librescu.
The following information about Dr. Librescu is from the Va. Tech web site.

The revelation that Dr. Liviu Librescu blocked the door of his classroom in Norris Hall on the morning of April 16 so that his students could escape through the windows came as no surprise to his family, friends, and colleagues. The renowned aeronautical engineering educator and researcher had demonstrated profound courage throughout the 76 years of his life.

As a child in Romania during World War II, Liviu was confined to a Jewish ghetto, while his father was sent to a forced labor camp. After surviving the Holocaust, Liviu moved forward with stalwart determination to become an engineer.

During the rise of the Communist Party in Romania in the 1960s, Liviu earned his undergraduate aeronautical engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest and completed his Ph.D. at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics, Academy of Science of Romania. He achieved academic prominence, but in order to have his papers on aerodynamics published anywhere except at the academy during Communist rule, he had to work in secrecy and—at great risk—smuggle papers to publishers in other countries.

Dr. Librescu and his wife wanted to leave Romania for Israel, but obtaining the requisite visas was a difficult and lengthy process. After three years—and with the help of the government of Israel—the family finally was allowed to immigrate in 1978.

After serving as a professor for seven years at Tel-Aviv University, Dr. Librescu accepted a one-year position as visiting professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM). The family decided to settle in Blacksburg in 1985, and Liviu became one of Virginia Tech’s most respected educators and researchers in the field of aeronautical engineering.

The roster of his publications, awards, and honors is remarkably long and international in scope. Among recent honors were his selection as a member of the Board of Experts of the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Scientific Research, and his election as the Foreign Fellow of the Academy of Engineering of Armenia.

“Professor Librescu died as he lived, devoted to his students and to his profession,” said Dr. Ishwar Puri, head of the ESM department at Virginia Tech. “He loved his position as a professor. A prolific researcher and wonderful teacher, he devoted himself to the profession, solely for the love of it.”

“It is a question of pleasures,” Dr. Librescu said in 2005, when asked why he continued to work so hard. “It is not a question of organizations or calculations. If I had the pleasure to do this, then I will put time aside to do this. It is personal freedom. If you are limited, then you miss the freedom. And I—I would like to be fluid. I would like to be free as a bird and fly everywhere.”

Dr. Librescu is survived by his wife, Marlena, and his sons, Joseph and Arieh, who reside in Israel. During his funeral in Israel, Marlena was presented with the Grand Cross of Romania, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in honor of her husband’s “scientific achievements and heroism.”

University Politehnica of Bucharest Administration building

Dr. Corneliu Burileanu, Vice Rector of the university and Scottie remembering Dr. Librescu

Romanian Village Museum in Bucharest

This museum compound on a lake in Bucharest started in the 1930s as a sociological project with peasants living here and being on view all the time. It was around the same time as the Williamsburg, VA project of John D. Rockefeller. The museum barely survived WWII and the Communist era, but it seems to be thriving today. They brought traditional ethnic houses and crafts from various regions of Romania. Given how fast the traditional aspects of rural Romania are disappearing now, it will be even more of a blessing in the future.

Louie with the single board of siding that's about 3 feet (1 meter), typical of these houses.

last day in Baia Mare, a thunder storm at Lake Boti

Awaiting the overnight train from Baia Mare to Bucharest (11.5 hours), and me in our sleeper cabin. We slept surprisingly well, awoke refreshed, and enjoyed the entire experience.

This storm was LOUD, and it included 1/2" hail!

Christie enjoying a sunny swing ride, but all of a sudden, a big, black cloud appeared. We ran for cover in the lodge. Andrei was asleep in the car with Grandmother Victoria (they call her Mamai) and never roused once.

Louie in a traditional gentleman's hat worn in Maramures villages. Alina says they serve no purpose other than to be sexy. Whadda ya think?