Faydor L. Litvin
January 21, 1914 – April 26, 2017
On April 26, 2017, the scientific community of mechanical engineers worldwide lost a renowned scientist, a great educator, and a remarkable person who dedicated his life to the development of the modern theory of gearing and made enormous contributions to the development of the theory of mechanisms.
Professor Litvin had been recognized as a renowned authority in kinematics and the theory of gearing. A whole epoch in the theory of gearing is concerned with the name of Professor Litvin. He is the author of one of the most fundamental and cited works in the field—a well-known monograph, The Theory of Gearing, which underwent six editions.
In a way, he really lived two lives—the first in Russia, where he was born, graduating from Leningrad Polytechnic Institute in 1937 with distinction, defending his PhD in 1944, becoming a unique, self-educated PhD holder and later receiving his Doctor of Technical Science degree in 1954.
From 1963, he served as department head and professor of mechanical engineering at the institute of Precision Mechanics and Optics in Leningrad.
He trained and supervised 100 PhD students (50 in Russia and later 50 in the U.S.) as well as visiting scholars from all over the world. All of them went on to receive prominent teaching and research positions in the U.S., Italy, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, China, Taiwan, and Australia. With great pride, they consider themselves as belonging to the “elite school of Litvin.”
In 1979, at the age of 65 when many consider retirement, Professor Litvin emigrated to the U.S. and since then worked as a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Gear Research Center at UIC, until retiring at the age of 93.
His contribution to the science of mechanical engineering is enormous. He actively worked in collaboration with NASA, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. rotorcraft industry for more than 25 years. He contributed significantly to the aerospace industry, with his technology valuable in the quest for reduced noise, vibration, and stress finding its way into the upgraded attack helicopter used by the U.S. Army.
He had more than 350 publications, among them 10 monographs, and had multiple inventions, 25 in the U.S.
He became a recipient of multiple awards, among them 12 from NASA, the Thomas Bernard Hall Prize Award from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, UK, the Edison Award, and the IFToMM merit award (International Federation for the promotion of Mechanism and Machine Science).
Professor Litvin was an ASME Fellow, served as an associate editor of Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, and was a member of the honorary editorial advisory Board of Gearing and Transmissions.
In 1985, Professor Litvin was honored by the Citizenship Council of Metropolitan Chicago as “Outstanding New Citizen of 1984-1985,” recognizing his work at UIC in the area of mechanical engineering.
He was a true patriot of his adopted country.
He became Honorary Doctor of Miskolc University, Hungary, in recognition of his influence on the development of the science of noncircular gears in Hungary.
He became UIC “Inventor of the Year” in 2001.
Many asked him repeatedly, “how could you leave Russia being at the height of your professional career, at the age of 65, going to uncertainty?”
He replied, “it is really simple, between me and that country, there is an ocean of blood.”
Indeed, he was born at the time of WWI, lived through the revolution, pogroms, Stalin’s bloody purges, WWII, and the Holocaust that took the lives of his parents among multiple others.
He was very proud to mention his invention during WWII that provided an efficient delivery of radar coordinates to antiaircraft artillery instrumentation, which was used by Soviet troops at the Leningrad front.
To test it, he travelled to blockaded Leningrad and crossed Lake Ladoga under bombardment (at the time of Leningrad siege).
One of his most distinguished features was always a great desire to learn, which stayed with him since his early childhood, when he taught himself how to read, until his very late years. He would translate Goethe from German into English at the age of 100.
His passion for creativity and research was astonishing and amazed many of his colleagues and PhD students.
He was very proud of the gallery of portraits in his GEAR Research Center. Those were scientists that he felt contributed significantly to the field of mechanical engineering and believed deserved recognition, though some of them maybe never got it during their life time. “Fame is a capricious goddess,” he would say.
With great enthusiasm and diligence, he was searching those names and biographies, sometimes contacting relatives in the 3rd generation, causing astonishment, surprise, and often a significant appreciation and gratitude.
That became a chapter in his book, “Development of Gear Technology and Theory of Gearing,” with an introduction from a great Russian poet Pasternak, “to be that famous is hardly handsome.”
Professor Litvin was a distinguished man, wise, cultured, very kind and admired by so many. Many of his former PhD students believed that they owed him so much for their technical and human education, always inspiring them to read, to appreciate art, literature, and music.
He was quite demanding as their supervisor, expecting them to dedicate themselves to research. Not everybody found it easy, but his scientific honesty was remarkable, his passion for research contagious. And they knew that in the end, it will be rewarded.
One of his former PhD students, a professor in Sofia, Bulgaria wrote: “My dear teacher, God gave you multiple gifts, you are really a phenomenon, intellectually, and culturally. You are a person of a distinguished character with a very noble and kind soul.”
He really was a Renaissance man, easily conversing on the topics of literature, philosophy, religion, and politics.
He was a completely self-made man, being on his own, supporting himself since age 14, when he left a small town in Belarus, where he was born, to seek an education in Leningrad.
His family was a source of his great pride. He was married for 78 years to Shifra, the girl that he met in grammar school and who remained next to him till her death a year prior to his passing.
In his words, she was astonishingly selfless, very wise, his devoted friend and confidant.
He is survived by a son and daughter with their spouses, four married grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. All of them knew his utmost devotion and deep love. One of them said that he was an engineer with a soul of a poet.
His former PhD student from Italy, now a professor in Bologna wrote: “Somebody said that we are little people on the shoulders of a giant. He was such a giant!”