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Retired Dean Alfred A.H. Keil is dead at 88


Retired Dean of Engineering Alfred A.H. Keil, one of the world's leading authorities on naval architecture and ocean engineering, died Jan. 9 at the Goddard Nursing Home in Jamaica Plain.

Keil, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, was 88 years old.

When Keil stepped down as dean of the School of Engineering in 1977, President Jerome B. Wiesner and Chancellor Paul E. Gray issued a statement praising his "distinguished" leadership. "He has made a lasting contribution to the school and to the Institute through his efforts to articulate a new and broader vision of engineering education and to use the resources of the school with increased effectiveness," they said.

Professor James D. Bruce, an associate dean under Keil who served as interim dean after Keil's departure, remembered him as a remarkable scientist and engineer, an innovative educator and a friend.

"His ideas concerning engineering and science education, though early, have stood the test of time and many are being implemented now," said Bruce, who is vice president for information systems. "Alfred was often seen via a stern Germanic exterior. However, he really had a warm heart. He cared about people. I often think of seeing him with my children when they would come to the office at the end of the day. Alfred was really a special colleague and friend to me."

Keil, who was born in Konradswaldau, Germany, on May 1, 1913, received the Doctor of Natural Science degree from Friederich Wilhelm University in 1939. He subsequently conducted research and experimentation on the physics and effects of underwater explosions.

After World War II, Keil worked for the US Naval Technical Mission in Germany in 1945-46 and came to the United States in 1947 to join the Navy's Bureau of Ships. He was chief scientist of the Navy's Underwater Explosion Research Division in Portsmouth, Va., for 12 years and became an authority on ship protection.

In 1959, Keil became technical director of the Structural Mechanics Laboratory at the Navy's David Taylor Model Basin in Washington, D.C., and was the first technical director for the entire organization from 1963-66. During this period, he made extensive contributions to improving the structural integrity and survivability of naval vessels.

Keil came to MIT in 1966 as head of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (now the Department of Ocean Engineering), the oldest academic department of its kind in the country. Under his direction, the department added a graduate degree program in 1967 and launched a joint degree program with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1969.

Not long after his arrival at MIT, Congress passed the National Sea Grant College and Program Act. Re-cognizing the opportunity for MIT to benefit from participation in this new marine program, Keil moved quickly and succeeded in obtaining the first grant awarded by the new national program. His leadership led to the establishment of the MIT Sea Grant Program in 1970. He was the program's first director. In December 1976, MIT became the first private university in the nation to be declared a Sea Grant College.

Following his term as dean of engineering, Keil was named a Ford Professor of Engineering. In that role, he continued to champion what he termed "the wiser use of science and technology," urging engineers to be concerned with the social impact of their activities. In addition, he helped facilitate improved collaboration between MIT and the Technical University of Berlin. He became professor emeritus in 1978.

Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti noted that the Engineering Systems Division and the recently established Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program follow models established during Keil's tenure. "These programs, which are broadening engineering education and research, are a testament to the visionary thinking that characterized Alfred Keil's career," he said.

Keil's honors and awards include two Navy Meritorious and Distinguished Civilian Service Awards, the Coast Guard's Meritorious Public Service Award, the Gibbs Brothers Gold Medal Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Gold Medal Award of the American Society of Naval Engineers, the Lockheed Award for Marine Science and Engineering, and the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was an active member of the National Academy of Engineering, serving on its Committee on Ocean Engineering and the Panel on Ocean Transportation, as well as several professional organziations.

The Alfred A.H. Keil Fellowship in the School of Engineering was established in 1989. In addition, MIT has established the Alfred A.H. Keil Ocean Engineering Development Fund to support appropriate undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. "The fund's objective is to perpetuate his basic principles and life-long dedication to broad-based research in ocean engineering, with special emphasis on related societal needs and concerns," said Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis, director of the MIT Sea Grant Program and head of the Department of Ocean Engineering.

The book "Multiple Genius" by Dean A. Horn, published recently by MIT Sea Grant Program Publications, chronicles Keil's life and career. The Keils were longtime residents of Belmont.

Dr. Keil is survived by his wife, Ursula (Leppelt) of Brookline; two sons, Juergen of Westerly, R.I., executive director of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Michael of Bammengal, Germany; and two granddaughters, Kristen Keil and Erika Keil, both of Boston.

Memorial donations may be made to the Alfred A.H. Keil Ocean Engineering Development Fund (MIT account number 3149100) and sent to the Department of Ocean Engineering, MIT Room 5-228, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139. A memorial service will he scheduled at MIT. The funeral was private.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 16, 2002.

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