Dr. Morton Gurtin
April 20, 2022

Professor Morton Gurtin passed away peacefully in his Pittsburgh home on April 20th following a long illness. He was 88 years old. Mort, as he was referred to by friends and colleagues, and Motela as he was called by his beloved Grandmother, was world renown in the fields of nonlinear continuum mechanics and thermodynamics lecturing throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Japan. Mort’s early years, however, belie his academic accomplishments which surfaced only later. He attended a fine high school in Westchester County and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, however he rarely attended class and studied preferring instead to race cars, play sports, and cavort with his fraternity brothers. Even though he wasn’t a student, his natural facility for Mathematics and Science was legendary. He received the highest grade on his College Physics Final; however, his professor gave him a failing grade because he never attended class. After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, he worked as a structural engineer at Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles and General Electric in Utica, NY where he excelled and wrote his first academic papers. In 1959, at the age of twenty-five, Mort realized he needed to go back to school to nurture his passion for research and received a National Defense Fellow scholarship to attend the PhD program in Applied Mathematics at Brown University. After completing his PhD in eighteen short months, he was awarded a Research Associateship at Brown and quickly became an Assistant Professor and then a tenured Associate Professor. Mort was restless in his early years and in 1966, he joined the Mathematics Department at Carnegie Mellon University as a full Professor. He thrived at CMU, later being honored with an Endowed Chair under the prestigious title of Alumni Professor of Mathematics. Mort’s list of academic honors is extensive, including a Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fulbright-Hays Research Fellow (1974), Honorary Fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Mathematics Research Center (1981-1982), Ordway Professor (1990) University of Minnesota, Carnegie Mellon’s Richard Moore Education Award (1999), the Agostinelli Prize (2001) from the Academia Nationale dei Lincei, Italy, a prestigious institution founded by Galileo, and the Timoshenko Medal for distinguished contributions in Applied Mechanics (2004). He also established the Center for Nonlinear Analysis at CMU and was a founding member of the Society of Natural Philosophy. But Mort was far more than a Mathematician, he was a fierce competitor and poet with a biting sense of humor and a deep love for sports, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a competitive sailor racing in Narragansett Bay during his years at Brown, he was a rock climber scaling the Cinque Torri in Cortina, and a competitive road racer and track runner completing the Boston Marathon in under three hours at age forty-seven and earning fifth place in the fifty to fifty-five age group at the Master’s Track and Field Championships at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Mort’s brilliance and drive are related in a poem he shared when receiving his honorary degree from the University of Rome:

As we cross this gentle plain

I see inside with deep regret

I wonder where my life began

I wonder where my life will end

the night comes in so dark and cold

the daylight yet so far away

I count each second ticking by

and try to calm the storm inside

and thus each moment in my life

imprinted harshly in my brain

tries to dig a hole to see

tries to find its way to me

Mort is survived by his daughter Amy Winokur and her husband Greg, his son Bill Gurtin and wife Kay, and by his three grandchildren, Katie Winokur, Grant Gurtin, and Liza Gurtin. Services and Interment were Private. In lieu of flowers, please send checks payable with a memo line of “Professor Morton Gurtin Endowed Fellowship” to Carnegie Mellon University, PO Box 371525, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-7525. Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc., family owned and operated. www.schugar.com


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So sorry to here about Prof. Gurtin's passing. I had him for freshman calculus at CMU back in the late 1970's. He was excellent. He had a very effective way of calling on students that I will never forget during the lectures in the big Wean Hall 7500 lecture hall. He had a giant blackboard on stage and used pieces of chalk the size of a bar of soap. To call on someone he would just throw one of those pieces of chalk up into the seats and where it landed, that's who had to answer the question. I think fondly of that now, but back then it really kept us all alert during his lectures. And there was no sitting far enough back to avoid it because he could really hurl that thing all the way to the top row.

By Bob Schmitt - May 08, 2022