Bergman recalls career of graduate students, collaborations and friendships
Tucked in his office, off the beaten path on Talbot Laboratory’s third floor, amidst stacks of books, notes, magazines and reports piled around him on desks and on the floor, using a sometimes uncooperative laptop, Bergman will click through one photo after another, telling stories about each and many of the people pictured.
The photographs, sent by students, colleagues and friends for his 70th birthday celebration two years ago at Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois, represent a life of sharing knowledge, friendship and experiences. “For me, it’s always been about the students and collaborators I’ve worked closely with, and the friendships that I’ve made,” he said. “This profession has given me the opportunity to forge friendships all over the world and to travel extensively, for which I’m grateful.”
An expert in structural dynamics and vibrations, structural control and reliability, Bergman’s career at Illinois began in the Department of Theoretical & Applied Mechanics in 1979, after he earned his PhD in Applied Mechanics at Case Western Reserve University. Prior to returning to graduate school in 1975, he worked for 9 years in the aerospace industry on projects including fuel system controls for the F-4 Phantom, leading edge actuators for the Concorde, a turbo-alternator to supply auxiliary power for the 747, and a wide range of vibration control systems for both military and commercial applications. He moved to AE in 1983, teaching courses and doing research in aerospace structures, aeroelasticity, and linear and nonlinear structural dynamics.
Among those many students are Erik Johnson, Professor and Associate Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California, and recipient of the AE Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016. One of the photos shows Johnson’s apple-cheeked infant daughter happily sitting on Bergman’s lap. The kids “win me over pretty quickly,” he admits.
Another former student was Bill Spencer, the Nathan M. and Anne M. Newmark Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering at Illinois, with whom Bergman has continuously interacted since 1980. Bergman noted that the strong connection of his research to structures, both aerospace and civil, resulted in a large number of his former students having careers in civil engineering.
In the course of reviewing the photo collection, Bergman’s trip down memory lane included stops all over the world, and he particularly recalled some of the zaniest moments. For example, there was the tour by a group from the US of the largest environmental wind tunnel in the world, in Tsukuba, Japan. After the group entered the test section, the operator turned on the flow and ran it up to the point where the visitors were knocked off their feet. There was also the harrowing experience in Nanjing, China, of Bergman having his scalp stitched together at 3 a.m. in the emergency room of an army hospital after an accident. Afterward, the doctor insisted on giving Bergman a tetanus shot in his bottom, an event that drew a significant audience.
Then there was the time on the Greek Island of Skiathos with four of Bergman 's former students. The students were all reasonably large, and the only car available was a two-door Fiat with a 500cc engine and minimal brakes. It was a sight to see.
Finally, there was a trip to a conference in Zakopane, Poland (hometown of Pope John Paul II), in the mountains in the far south of the country. The flight on LOT Airlines from O’Hare was packed, and Bergman had to check his suitcase. The plane left eight hours late. When Bergman landed in Warsaw, he learned his ride to Zakopane had already left, and his luggage hadn’t made it on the plane. With some help, he found himself facing a 7-hour overnight trip on an unheated World War II-era train, unable to sleep due to the many stops. Upon his arrival at his destination, Bergman was met by his host who informed Bergman his plenary talk would start in 30 minutes, sans shower and clean clothes. The suitcase arrived four days later, as Bergman was leaving the hotel to return to the US.
Despite his “retirement," Bergman plans to continue his research work with students and colleagues, and looks forward to traveling and accumulating many more happy memories and funny stories. “I’m grateful for the many opportunities and lasting friendships the last 37 years have afforded me," he said. "It’s really the beauty of this profession.”