“Not only did he do wonders for the College and the Department, Dean Max Williams had a profound impact on me personally,” reflects Larry DeVries, distinguished professor in mechanical engineering.  Williams’ tenure as Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Utah was from 1965 to 1973.

“I had just joined the ranks of tenure-track faculty two years before, when Williams left the research culture of Caltech to become Dean here at the College of Engineering,” says DeVries. “At the time Williams was internationally renown as a pioneer in fracture mechanics.  Even today you can open any one of a number of fracture mechanics books to find M. L. Williams referenced.”

DeVries adds, “It wasn’t long after his arrival before he and I were great collaborators.  In fact we co-authored some two dozen refereed journal articles together, along with many proceedings and conference papers.”

Williams was an effective, but demanding Dean, successful in making a number of improvements and important faculty hires.  He greatly increased the emphasis on research and graduate studies. Under his administration the departments of Computer Science, Bioengineering and Materials and Engineering were added to the College. Additionally the College formed a Cadet Engineering Program designed to introduce high school students to engineering at the U.

Through strong community sponsorship, the Cadet Program involved an eight-week initiation over the summer for these potential students. However although a great experience for participants, follow-up studies showed that only 5% enrolled in engineering.  Dean Williams was able to convince donors that it would serve a greater purpose to use these funds towards need-based scholarships for underrepresented students.

Accepting the position as Dean of the School of Engineering at his hometown University of Pittsburgh, Dean Williams resigned from the University of Utah as well as with few exceptions, his personal research.  By then his technical effort was concentrated at the advisory level to government, where he became increasingly involved.

Below published on NYTimes.com from Oct. 8 to Oct. 9, 2013 Max L. Williams (2-22-1922 -9-18-2013):

A seminal mind has departed: Though M.L. Williams was associated with academic institutions, throughout his career he demonstrated a firm belief in practical, hands-on engineering. He was a Registered Engineer and had a major influence in guiding national programs of defense research, saving millions of dollars through judiciously supporting, criticizing, or phasing studies and programs. His practical insights transitioned into engineering management through guidance of over 20 start-up engineering ventures, which depended critically on mature engineering judgment.

His national impact is memorialized through his involvements in numerous government agency committees ranging from the Department of State through NASA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. His early academic achievement was the identification of the universal nature of the stress field at the tip of a crack, which became the cornerstone for the field of fracture mechanics through the development of the single most important parameter controlling fracture; Fracture Mechanics is today a mature field thanks to M.L. Williams’ pioneering work.

Today, no structural fracture/failure analysis could be conceived without his contribution; he even pioneered the extension of these concepts to the mechanics of earthquake generation in the 1950s. During the height of the cold war, M.L. Williams was instrumental in developing the tools for the fail-safe operation of solid propellant rocket motors (e.g., Polaris, SRAM, Minuteman), which made the national defense and space efforts viable.

The influence of those developments concerning the mechanical behavior of polymeric materials were felt for example through the Richard Feynman analysis of the O-ring seals in the Challenger disaster as well as throughout the whole engineering field where mechanical applications of polymers in today’s engineering environments are involved. Elected to the NAE 2003, M.L. Williams was a consummate lecturer and during his later years held many appointments nationally and internationally.