Professor Emeritus Herbert Cheng Passes Away | News | Northwestern Engineering – Northwestern Engineering


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Herbert SuYuen Cheng, Walter P. Murphy Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, passed away at age 92 on October 24, 2022. He will be remembered for his research in tribology, the accomplishments of his students, and his dedication to Northwestern Engineering.
Born November 15, 1929, Cheng joined the McCormick School of Engineering in 1968 as a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering after previously working in the private sector and also Syracuse University. After emigrating from China in 1949, Cheng earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a master’s from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. 
Herbert Cheng
Cheng’s research contributions included establishing several engineering theories in the areas of elastohydrodynamic and mixed-film lubrication, applying them in various projects such as the NASA Space Shuttle program, domestic and foreign car industries, nuclear-powered submarines, and medical joint replacement implants. Cheng, who became a professor emeritus in 2003, was also a prolific author of textbook chapters and papers that appeared in scientific journals.
In 1987, Cheng was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for “pioneering contributions to the tribology of gas, elastohydrodynamic, plastohydrodynamic, and mixed lubrication, and for leadership in developing collaborative university and industrial research in tribology.”
Cheng’s other honors included the 1992 Institution of Mechanical Engineers Gold Medal, the 1987 Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers National Award, and the 1990 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Mayo D. Hersey Award. He also trained numerous students who have advanced professionally and serve in leadership positions in both universities and the broader mechanical engineering community internationally.
I wanted to cry. Professor Cheng was my beloved adviser, colleague, and friend. He was the one who guided my early academic career path; his attitude toward work and life told me much more than how to be a professor. His success set a high standard, his contributions, especially his thermal EHL solution and average-flow model, constituted an important portion of the modern theories of lubrication,” said Q. Jane Wang, professor of mechanical engineering, current director of Northwestern Engineering’s Center for Surface Engineering and Tribology that was initiated by Cheng in the ’80s, and one of Cheng’s former PhD students at Northwestern. “We lost a giant in the field of tribology, and we lost another giant in ME. He will be long remembered by us in his academic family, and by his colleagues and people the tribology community. When I shared the sad news with Professor Cheng’s previous students and associates, they said no words could describe their sadness.”
“We are all fortunate to be his graduate students and are all indebted to him for his high-level teaching and training us to be who we are today.”
Cheng met his future wife Lily at the University of Chicago’s International House, and they eventually spent 69 years together, raising a family of four children and traveling. Cheng was passionate about Beijing-style opera, Chinese cooking, fishing, and sports.
Cheng is survived by Lily; children Elaine (Bob) Sinclair, Elise Denneny, Edward (Sonja) Cheng, and Earl (Noreen) Cheng; and his grandchildren James (Elizabeth) and Jacquelline Denneny; Mary, Christopher, John, Garrett, and Kevin Cheng; and Alexander and Christina Cheng.
A memorial service honoring and celebrating Cheng’s life will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, November 12, at Winnetka Bible Church, 555 Birch Street, Winnetka, Illinois 60093.
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