University of Texas at Austin


Computational Mechanics Conference Celebrates Thomas J.R. Hughes's 80th Birthday

By Rebecca Riley

Published Nov. 20, 2023

Tom Hughes (center). Credit: Joanne Foote

The 2023 Advances in Computational Mechanics (ACM) Conference marked a momentous milestone as it celebrated the 80th birthday of Thomas J.R. Hughes, a renowned professor in computational mechanics. The celebration was in conjunction with the thematic conference, held October 22-25, which featured a special track on Computational Fluid-Structure Interaction: Frontiers in Methods and Applications.

Hughes, a core faculty member at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, has significantly shaped academia and engineering. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of California, where he began his academic career, Hughes subsequently held pivotal positions at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. He has been teaching and advising students at The University of Texas at Austin since 2002, where he is also director of the Computational Mechanics Group at the Oden Institute.

More than 250 participants from around the world attended the conference, held at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin, Texas, including experts, researchers, and young investigators eager to explore the latest advancements in computational mechanics. 

The conference kicked off with some opening remarks from Yuri Bazilevs, Kenji Takizawa, and Tayfun Tezduyar, who organized the event as Conference Chairs. 

The opening plenary, delivered by Karen Willcox, Director of the Oden Institute, set the stage for celebrating Hughes's remarkable contributions to the field. Willcox provided a numerical overview of Hughes's prolific career, emphasizing his 49 years in academic positions, 23 memberships in professional and honorary societies, 325 journal publications, and the mentorship of 47 Ph.D. students.

"We are here to celebrate 80 years of Tom Hughes and the incredible impact that he has had," said Willcox. "It goes without saying, and Tayfun said it very nicely, the incredible impact that Tom has had. Every single one of us sitting in the room can trace not one but many threads back to Tom’s work over the years and how it has impacted not just our research but our everyday lives as we think about the impact of the Finite Element Method on the world around us."



Willcox gives an overview of Hughes's illustrious career, including Hughes's number of citations, (current as of conference). Credit: Joanne Foote

After Willcox’s opening remarks, Peter Wriggers from Leibniz University Hannover gave a plenary on Virtual Elements for Engineering Applications. Wriggers also shared personal memories of Hughes, underlining the collaborative and innovative spirit that has defined Hughes's career.

In his plenary, Robert Taylor from the University of California, Berkeley, provided a captivating timeline of Hughes's journey from Berkeley to UT Austin. Noting that Hughes doesn't do anything casually, Taylor reminisced about Hughes's meticulous approach to teaching, his involvement in foundational projects, and his impactful leadership at Stanford, where he built a world-class computational mechanics program.

The conference provided a platform for exploring the diverse applications of computational mechanics, with presentations delving into a multitude of real-world applications. One notable plenary came from Allison Marsden of Stanford, shedding light on the intricate challenges posed by peripheral pulmonary stenosis and exemplifying the wide-reaching implications of computational mechanics, particularly in the field of cardiovascular medicine.

Daya Reddy, former president of the International Science Council, commended the conference for its unique format with plenary lectures limited to 20 minutes. He noted that this format encouraged effective communication. The University of Cape Town researcher highlighted one other aspect of the symposium’s significance: "This is the first academic conference I’ve attended since the COVID pandemic," said Reddy. For many attendees, this marked their initial return to academic conferences since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. The sense of renewed engagement contributed to the vibrancy and positive atmosphere.


L-R: Robert Taylor; conference attendees; Hughes with attendees.

The last slide in Willcox's opening presentation was of the infinity symbol. "We can imagine in our minds Tom’s infinite capacity, his energy, creativity, and many more years to come," said Willcox.

As the Oden Institute continues to foster collaborations with various research centers and universities, the legacy of Hughes serves as a guiding force, inspiring researchers to push the boundaries of computational mechanics and its applications in diverse scientific domains. The symposium affirmed that the intersection of mathematics, computer science, medicine, and engineering in computational mechanics continues to be a dynamic field shaping the future of scientific inquiry and technological innovation.