Martha Salcudean

Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Salcudean is an internationally recognized authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she became the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department when she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. Salcudean has dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships between universities, government agencies and industrial associates in sectors such as mining, forestry and aeronautics.

Early Life, Education and Career in Romania

Martha Eva Salcudean was born to Edmund and Sarolta Abel in Cluj, Romania, on 26 February 1934. Cluj-Napoca is Romania’s second-largest city and the historical centre of much of the country’s cultural and educational development. Martha and her family lived through the Second World War and endured Romania’s postwar transformation into a Soviet satellite state and dictatorship. Despite the upheaval, she was able to complete her education. In 1956, a year after her marriage to George Salcudean, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Cluj Polytechnic Institute (now the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca).

After graduating, Salcudean began working at Armatura, a Romanian manufacturer of gas, water and steam fittings located in Cluj-Napoca. In 1962, while working for Armatura, she earned a postgraduate diploma in instrumentation and control systems. The following year, she moved to Bucharest to become a senior research officer at the National Research Institute for Metallurgy, where she focused on heat transfer and fluids. In 1967, she started lecturing part-time at the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest (now the University Politehnica of Bucharest), Romania’s oldest and largest technical university She received her doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brașov in 1969.

Career in Canada

After over a decade with the National Research Institute for Metallurgy, Salcudean immigrated to Canada in 1976. She was a research associate at McGill University in Montréal, focusing on process modelling for application in the steel industry. Salcudean joined the mechanical engineering department at the University of Ottawa as an assistant professor in 1977. She was promoted to associate professor in 1979 and received tenure in 1981. During her time in Ottawa, Salcudean’s research focused on heat transfer and fluid flow and the mathematical modelling of these processes.

In 1985, Salcudean took a faculty position with the University of British Columbia. She became the first female head of the university’s department of mechanical engineering and the first woman to lead a university engineering department in Canada. As chair, Salcudean encouraged her colleagues to seek out grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and made groundbreaking research projects that were key in the department’s research strategy. To further underscore the need for innovative ventures, she emphasized the importance of research and development collaborations among faculty members and with government agencies and industry partners. Although she later expressed concerns that NSERC’s emphasis on research production could strain relationships between faculty members, her emphasis on collaboration led to many dynamic partnerships for the department and for Salcudean. She assembled a large research team, creating a prominent and internationally respected centre for pulp and paper process modelling. Salcudean and her research teams also collaborated with companies like Pratt & Whitney, an aeronautics firm that specializes in engine manufacturing; Cominco, a Canadian zinc and copper mining and production company; and Weyerhaeuser, an international producer of wood products and timberlands management. Salcudean has also worked on research projects with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

In 1993, Salcudean began her tenure as the University of British Columbia’s associate vice-president of research, a post that she held for three years. The same year, Salcudean cofounded Process Simulations Ltd. (PSL), a private research and development company that focuses on mathematical modelling and computer simulation applications to industrial processes. PSL works closely with the University of British Columbia during the research and development phases of its projects, licensing technology that has been developed by the department of mechanical engineering. PSL’s clients have included Weyerhaeuser, Canadian Forest Products and TransCanada.

In 1996, Salcudean was named the Weyerhaeuser Industrial Research Chair in computational fluid dynamics in the department of mechanical engineering. Her rank is now professor emeritus at the university.

Salcudean is an internationally recognized authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer and the modelling of transport phenomena in industrial processes. She has published more than 80 papers and journal articles on a variety of subjects, most notably heat transfer and fluid flow. She has been active in more than 50 professional and academic associations at national and international levels. Salcudean was part of NSERC’s grant selection committee for mechanical engineering. She chaired both the Science Council of British Columbia and the Leading Edge Endowment Fund Board. Salcudean also sat on the Department of National Defence’s Defense Science Advisory Board and participated on the national advisory panel, reporting to the Ministry of Science and Technology on advanced industrial materials. She was also a member of the National Research Council’s governing body. Salcudean is a fellow at several academic and research organizations, including the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering and The Canadian Academy of Engineering.

Personal Life

Salcudean married her husband, George, in 1955. Their son, Tim (Septimiu), is an electrical and computer engineer and a fellow for The Canadian Academy of Engineering, just like his mother. He is a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of British Columbia.

Honours and Awards

  • CHK Gold Medal in Applied Science and Engineering, Science Council of British Columbia (1991)
  • Fellow, The Canadian Academy of Engineering (1992)
  • 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal (1993)
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada (1994)
  • Fellow, Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering
  • Julian C. Smith Medal, The Engineering Institute of Canada (1995)
  • Meritorious Achievement Award, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (1996)
  • Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Award for Engineering (1998)
  • Order of British Columbia (1998)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (2004)
  • Officer, Royal Society of Canada (2004)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)

Honorary Degrees