Juan Carlos Simo (1952-1994) was an extraordinary contributor to engineering, and an electrifying influence on all, from senior colleagues to students, in a lifespan cut short by cancer. Juan became an internationally renowned expert on computational mechanics, a synthesis of physical insight, computer technology and advanced mathematical methods which have wide application in engineering analysis.
After earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's degree in business administration in Spain, Juan continued his graduate studies at the University of California in Berkeley as a Fulbright Scholar. There he received a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 1982. Juan taught graduate courses at Berkeley and Stanford before being appointed assistant professor at Stanford in 1985. Juan received the Presidential Young Investigator's Award in 1987 and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1990 and to full professor in 1993. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Chairman of the Applied Mechanics Division. In 1994 Juan received the Humboldt Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt foundation.
By the time Juan came to Stanford he had already made fundamental progress on computational approaches to problems of solids and structures undergoing inelastic deformations and, in the process, he had established himself as a star. Juan revitalized a long tradition of activity in the mechanics of inelastic media by developing a graduate sequence in Theoretical and Computational Inelasticity which became his signature course. It is generally conceded that Juan took the subject to a new level and he will long be remembered for the body of work he produced in this field.
Simultaneously, Juan did outstanding work in a number of other areas. He had an abiding interest in structural theories and nonlinear continuum mechanics. He developed formulations for nonlinear rods, beams, plates and shells undergoing large overall motions. As with all his work, he created excitement and presented results that attracted tremendous interest. Nonlinear beam formulations that would be applied to rather mundane, technical problems by most engineering researchers were used by Juan with tremendous flair and wit to simulate "flying spaghetti." Later he focused on models for shell intersections and asymptotic methods for nonlinear shells. Notable was his realization that the Christoffel symbols need never be calculated for shell computation.
Despite his propensity for hard work with little time wasted for sleep, Juan was very human. He loved parties, good food and wine, and baroque music. He loved speed with an edge of danger. As a young man in Spain, he ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He maintained a pilot's license, and, one day after wiping out his motorcycle, he bought a new one with more power.
Juan died in 1994, at the age of 42, leaving us a legacy of some eighty publications and three books, that continue to be highly cited. One can only guess at the marvels he would have produced had he been able to continue.
In 2010, the Mechanics and Computation Division at Stanford established the annual Juan C. Simo Thesis award, to be given to the best PhD thesis by students of the Division each year, to commemorate the life and contribution of Simo.