Department of Mathematical Sciences

History of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University

George Fix


George Fix became the Chair of the Mathematical Sciences Department in the fall of 1999. He came to the Department with a well-established, international reputation as a numerical analyst along with long terms as a Chair/Head of distinguished mathematics departments--first at Carnegie Mellon University, then at the University of Texas at Arlington. He was an individual with an unbridled enthusiasm for mathematics and its applications, as well as a broad view of mathematics consistent with the mathematical sciences concept.

He brought needed outside views of what could be accomplished at Clemson University and was respected by the college administration for his administrative and research experience. In other words, such a person was needed both within our faculty and inside the University at this time in the history of the Department. Under his tenure, our graduate student stipends received a necessary boost to place us near par with the average of other research universities in the Southeast. Our Master of Science concentration was expanded to include a new focus in mathematical finance and discussions were well under way to reinvigorate our role in Mathematics Education. Research grants awarded to the Department significantly increased over the three year period of his leadership.

At the undergraduate level, significant events occurred during the period that he was Chair. The Director of Undergraduate studies presented and the Department adopted an Honors thesis option for our majors in the Honors Program. The Clemson University Mathematics Placement Test was implemented (encouraged by Professors Biggers, Ervin, Fairbairn, Jarvis, and Prevost). The multi-section courses MthSc 102, 106 and 108 now require common tests and examinations as well as MthSc 103 and 105. The common tests and examinations were developed by the calculus committee (chaired by Professor Jarvis) but Professor Fix kept abreast of the project and gave his enthusiastic endorsement. Finally to assist students in their first semester calculus, the Department under George's prodding implemented a "co-calculus" course for students whose performance on the Placement Test and Basic Skills Test (given on the first day of class) was marginal.

Professor Fix kept an open door policy for students and faculty who needed encouragement or who had questions. He instituted a monthly meeting with graduate students to identify any potential roadblocks in their education. His enthusiasm encouraged many new projects, one of these being the recruitment of a top notch Departmental Advisory Committee and an annual meeting of the faculty with this committee. Dr. Fix made a priority of establishing collaborations with industry and to foster interdisciplinary research. He headed up the effort to hire faculty with success especially during the second year of his leadership. (During his first year, the total budget allocated to the Department was uncertain until many opportunities were lost and in his last year funds allocated for one or more positions were withdrawn.) Professor Fix and his wife hosted a "welcome back" party for faculty (active and emeriti) continuing a tradition established by several previous department chairs.

Early in his third year as Chair of our Department, serious cancer was detected and he simultaneously performed his duties as Chair and underwent extensive chemotherapy. His spirits remained high throughout the year but his resistance to infections eventually caused his death. In his last day on the job he introduced the Andrew Sobczyk speaker, Professor Frank Natterer and helped through the lecture with the lighting in the room as the speaker switched from projection equipment to chalkboard supplements. He paid close attention to the talk but left the campus soon after the lecture for the hospital. This was typical of George's love for mathematics.

Finally we should mention some of George Fix's previous credentials. Even though these credentials were established outside of this Department, the fact that he was attracted to Clemson University's Mathematical Sciences Department is some measure of how far our Department has developed. George was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He received a BS degree from Texas A&M University, an MS degree from Rice University, and a PhD degree from Harvard University under Garrett Birkhoff. He taught at Harvard University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan before moving to Carnegie Mellon. He wrote two mathematics books, including the seminal book with Gil Strang, Analysis of the Finite Element Method. He authored chapters in seven books and many papers on the uses of the finite element method. Finally, he was a technical consultant for many firms and agencies including Westinghouse, ICASE, General Motors, and Oak Ridge National Labs.

George was a pioneer in the field of finite element methods for solving partial differential equations. He wrote early papers on finite element methods for solving eigenvalue problems, finite element methods for time dependant problems, finite element methods for problems with singularities, finite element methods for solving PDEs of mixed type, the effects of quadrature errors on finite element solutions, and finite element methods for compressible flows. He was a co-developer of phase field methods for phase transition problems and made significant contributions in other areas of mathematics including computational acoustics, fluids, geometry ,and integral equations. (This last paragraph was adopted from an obituary written by Professor Max Gunzburger, Iowa State University.)

George was a master home brewer and co-authored with his wife Laurie four books on the subject. He also wrote many articles on this hobby. One of this other hobbies was classical music.

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