Remembering mechanical engineering professor Savas Yavuzkurt


By Mariah Chuprinski

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State College of Engineering community is mourning the loss of Savas Yavuzkurt, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, who died on Nov. 18 at the age of 70. He retired from Penn State in 2018.

Yavuzkurt earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford University in 1978. He served as a research fellow and instructor at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, before joining the mechanical engineering faculty at Penn State in 1981. Yavuzkurt spent the next 38 years researching and teaching at Penn State. His research centered on experimental and theoretical turbulent flows, boundary layers, convective heat transfer and alternate energy sources, as well as experimental methods in fluids, turbomachinery and combustion.

“Savas was a great colleague,” said Mary Frecker, head of the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering. “He was well known to all of us for his warmth, friendly demeanor and sense of humor. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago when he stopped by my office to wish me well as department head. I know that I am not alone in saying he will be missed.”

Throughout his career, Yavuzkurt published more than 100 scientific papers, advised at least 30 graduate students, and taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. He received the Outstanding Teaching Award in 2009 from the Penn State Engineering Alumni Society and was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

He also served as a research fellow at NASA and as an adjunct professor at the National Taiwan University and National Chiao Tung University in China.

“My first meeting with Savas dated back to the winter of 2009; at that time, I served as vice dean for international collaboration in mechanical engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University,” said Yingzheng Liu, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at SJTU. “We set up a collaboration between Penn State and Shanghai Jiao Tong University through international capstone projects and bilateral workshops on turbulent heat transfer and energy science. In 2019, Savas visited Shanghai for a month. He was really a warm-hearted scholar, and we enjoyed talking with him.”

Yavuzkurt is survived by his wife, Shu-er Lee of Lemont; sons, Altan “Dan” of Boston, Massachusetts, and Teoman “Ted” of Mountain View, California; his first wife, Amanda Saxon, mother of Dan and Ted; and sister, Sevil Kilinc of Izmir, Turkey. Preceding him in death were his older sister, Sevgi Aydin, and parents, Kerime Atilla and Hüseyin Yavuzkurt.

Several of his colleagues at Penn State had memories to share:

“I remember meeting Savas at my faculty interview in 1984," said John Cimbala, professor of mechanical engineering, “and thinking to myself, ‘This guy would make a perfect Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof!’ A few years after I joined the department, I mentioned this to Savas, and he said he did play Tevye a number of times! His laugh was infectious, and he was always smiling; he enjoyed life. We worked together on hydroturbine research for many years, and I always appreciated Savas’ innate understanding of how things work. He was a brilliant scholar and friend, and we will all miss him greatly.”

“Savas and I often went out for lunch,” said Anil Kulkarni, professor of mechanical engineering. “Having been born outside of the U.S. in different countries, we compared our American experiences. What stuck particularly in my mind was when we talked about transparency and privacy issues in the U.S. compared to those in other countries. We talked about how it was common to share salary figures back home. He used to say, as soon he and his colleagues came out of a meeting with their department head, they asked each other, how much of a raise did you get this year? I always thought it was very interesting and hilarious! I suppose that type of transparency showed in many ways he lived his life.”

“When I started at Penn State, Savas had the office next to me and our office doors faced each other,” said Laura Pauley, professor of mechanical engineering. “I would often talk with Savas about teaching or life in State College. He was a welcoming and cheerful colleague. I appreciated his advice and assistance through the years.”

“Professor Yavuzkurt’s research in predicting heat transfer is work I studied first as a graduate student and then as a faculty member," said Karen Thole, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering. "Our technical community benefited from his contributions and will miss interacting with him and continuing to learn from him.”

Yavuzkurt’s obituary is available to read here.


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