Martha Salcudean | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Martha Salcudean

Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj, Romania; died 17 July 2019 in British Columbia). Salcudean was a leading authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. This made her the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department. Salcudean dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships. She fostered collaboration between universities, government agencies and industry groups in sectors such as mining, pulp and paper and aeronautics.

Photographic portrait of Martha Salcudean

Mechanical engineer Martha Salcudean was the first female head of a Canadian university's engineering department.

Early Life

Martha Eva Salcudean was born to Edmund and Sarolta Abel in Cluj, Romania, on 26 February 1934. Cluj-Napoca, as it is officially known today, is one of Romania’s largest cities and the historical centre of much of the country’s cultural and educational development. Salcudean and her family survived the Holocaust during the Second World War. She later stated that her childhood ended at the age of 10, amid the cruelty she saw her fellow Jews subjected to in the ghettos. Her family spent months imprisoned in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp before escaping to Switzerland as refugees in December 1944.

Education and Early Career

The family returned to Romania after the war. Another oppressive era began as the country transformed into a Soviet satellite state and dictatorship. Despite the upheaval, Martha Salcudean was able to complete her education. In July 1955, two months 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. 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 more than a decade with the National Research Institute for Metallurgy, Martha Salcudean immigrated to Canada in 1976. She became a research associate at McGill University in Montreal. Her work focused 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, as well as the mathematical modelling of these processes.

In 1985, Salcudean took a faculty position with the University of British Columbia (UBC). 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 grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and launched groundbreaking research projects that were key in the department’s research strategy. She promoted research and development collaborations among faculty members, with government agencies and with industry partners.

Although she later expressed concerns that NSERC’s emphasis on research production could strain relationships between faculty, her emphasis on collaboration led to many dynamic partnerships. 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 also worked on research projects with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

In 1993, Salcudean began her tenure as UBC’s associate vice-president of research, a post that she held for three years. The same year, Salcudean co-founded Process Simulations Ltd. (PSL), a private research and development company that focused on the use of mathematical modelling and computer simulation for industrial processes. PSL worked closely with UBC during the research and development phases of its projects, licensing technology developed by the department of mechanical engineering. PSL’s clients 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.

At the time of Salcudean’s death in 2019, she was a professor emerita at UBC. She had also just published the memoir In Search of Light. The book is an account of her survival of the Holocaust and her postwar life in communist Romania.


Salcudean was a leading authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer, as well as on the modelling of transport phenomena in industrial processes. She published more than 80 papers and journal articles on a variety of subjects, most notably heat transfer and fluid flow. She was 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 Defence 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 was a fellow of 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

Martha Salcudean married her husband, George, in 1955. Their son, Tim (Septimiu), is an electrical and computer engineer and a fellow of The Canadian Academy of Engineering. 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)
  • Honorary Doctorate, University of Ottawa (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)
  • Honorary Doctor of Science, University of British Columbia (2001)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (2004)
  • Officer, Royal Society of Canada (2004)
  • Honorary Doctor of Engineering, University of Waterloo (2009)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)