Ways of being

Star Tribune

Subbiah Ramalingam (1956/BTech/ME), Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, passed away on February 9, 2019.

Fondly called Dr Ram, or simply Ram, by his legions of admirers, friends and well-wishers, he enjoyed a distinguished career as a researcher and teacher, spanning half a century. His major research included modelling thin films for tribological applications, intelligent sensors, real-time sensing for manufacturing automation, solid lubricants, thin film deposition processes and coating technology, machining theory, metal forming, and manufacturing automation. He is regarded as one of the pioneers in the study of machining processes, sensors, and friction and wear (tribology) and taught courses in the materials aspect of bio-medical design.

Ram was born in Udumalpet, Tamil Nadu. With funds borrowed by his brother, who was also an engineer, he entered IIT Kharagpur, where he left his mark as a student with multifarious talents. He organized a film society (which showed movies on a suspended bed-sheet), and wrote poetry. A quintessentially ‘argumentative Indian’, he provoked dialogue and debate, often by purposely choosing to take the opposite side to the prevailing view.

He joined Hindustan Motors after graduation, and then, encouraged by a visiting professor from America, took up study in the University of Illinois (1960). A small handbook he co-authored with his senior professor while he was still a student remained in use for decades. That was a sign of things to come. Ram eventually authored or co-authored more than one hundred articles, and held six patents.

Ram began teaching at the University of Minnesota in 1980, where he was also the first Director of the Productivity Center. He had taught previously at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, SUNY at Buffalo, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was visiting professor in several top laboratories in Australia and became the first non-Japanese member of the Japan Society for Precision Engineering. Ram was much sought after as a consultant, and gave many invited lectures at universities in the US, Italy, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands.

He loved to travel, and a lively interest in the places he visited combined with his love for science. For example, he saw ancient cylinder seals in museums and noted their relationship to repetitive processes in manufacturing. In the open air museums in Germany, he found examples of early machinery, craft implements, and manufacturing tools.

Ram received the Taylor Research Medal from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and was a member in many learned and professional societies, including the Materials Research Society, the American Society of Metals, and the North American Manufacturing Research Institute. He was named a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (1986), and was elected by his peers to the highest honour in his profession, Member of the National Academy of Engineering (1998).

He is survived by his wife, Vivian (née Safowitz); his youngest brother, sister, and several nephews and nieces. He is also mourned by his former students, colleagues and acquaintances who turned life-long friends. Letters received by his family and colleagues after his death describe Ram as an admirable, unique, inspiring scientist and teacher, a man of exceptional intellectual integrity, and a generous friend who had enriched lives.

Graphics : Suman Sutradhar

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