Engineering pioneer, former department head Robert Jordan dies

by Courtney Lewis

Richard Jordan, former head of the University’s department of mechanical engineering, died June 14 of natural causes in Rio Verde, Ariz. He was 93.

The first man to receive a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University, Jordan was known as a pioneer for both his administrative work and research in the field.

Jordan received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University in 1931 and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1933. He received his doctorate in 1940.

He became head of the department of mechanical engineering in 1949 and continued in the position until his retirement in 1976.

“He hired a lot of key faculty that have gone on to do great things in the department,” said Richard Goldstein, mechanical engineering professor and former department head. “He was a major figure.”

Ben Liu, a retired mechanical engineering professor and researcher, said Jordan was unique among University professors.

“I would want people to remember him as a visionary, as a pioneer and as someone who had an ability to recognize talent,” Liu said.

In an era when science and engineering were seen as separate entities – with science focused on nature and engineering on mechanics – Liu said Jordan worked at combining the two disciplines.

Jordan sought funding for research and was granted federal money to boost the graduate program, Liu said. He also received financial support from faculty.

“Without his power of persuasion, we wouldn’t have one of the best mechanical engineering departments in the country,” Liu said.

Jordan also helped prompt the creation of a particle transfer laboratory, where he contributed to research efforts. In the late 1960s, he worked on a solar energy paper with Liu and other colleagues.

Research published in the paper made Jordan famous as a pioneer in solar energy.

During Jordan’s 27-year tenure at the University, the mechanical engineering program’s ranking rose to fourth in the country.

“He was really selfless and dedicated to building the department,” Liu said. “And he was a top-notch engineer in his own right.”

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]