Fredric ("Fred") Raichlen, professor emeritus of civil and mechanical engineering at Caltech, passed away on December 13, 2014. He was 82 years old. Raichlen was an expert on the mechanics of tsunamis, the waves created by underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other geologic events.
Most waves propagate through the water at and just below the surface. A tsunami is fundamentally different. Because it is driven by a movement in the earth's crust, the wave extends from the seafloor all the way up to the surface. As the tsunami approaches land, the transition from deep to shallow water concentrates the wave's energy. The local topography off- and onshore focuses the onrushing wall of water, and utter devastation can follow. (The tsunami caused by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake reached six miles inland in some places and killed more than 18,000 people.)
Raichlen's wave-tank experiments enabled him to develop three-dimensional computer models of how tsunamis originate, propagate through the open ocean, and eventually run up on land. He simulated the run-up in a tank 31 feet long by 15 feet wide that was big enough to hold a scale model of an entire harbor. These experiments allowed him to design features such as breakwaters to protect a specific port or to determine where not to site vulnerable structures such as railroad tracks and oil tanks. In other experiments he determined how fast different regions within a wave move as the wave breaks, which in turn allowed him to calculate the force of the wave's impact. He also investigated the effects of the waves on floating structures such as ships moored in the harbor.
Raichlen earned his bachelor's degree in engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1953, and his master's and doctoral degrees at MIT in 1955 and 1962. He came to Caltech as an assistant professor of civil engineering in 1962, and he was promoted to associate professor in 1967 and to professor in 1972. In 1969, he became one of the founding faculty members of Caltech's doctoral program in environmental engineering science. He was appointed professor of civil and mechanical engineering in 1997 and professor emeritus in 2001.
Raichlen was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and in 1994 he received the American Society of Civil Engineers' John G. Moffatt–Frank E. Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award.
The funeral will be Thursday, December 18th at 11:30 a.m. at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
A full obituary will be published at a later date.