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In Memoriam Emeritus Professor Elmer G. Gilbert


Elmer Grant Gilbert died 16 June 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, age 89, from congestive heart failure.

Elmer G. Gilbert, Professor Emeritus (1930-2019)

Elmer was Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan. He was born on 29 March 1930 in Joliet, Illinois, along with his twin brother Edward Otis (Ed), to Harry A. and Florence O. Gilbert. Elmer and Ed spent their youth building and creating things together, including ham radios and a large antenna tower in their backyard which allowed them to talk with people worldwide. In college and university, they pursued the same academic field, both earning PhDs in Instrumentation Engineering at the University of Michigan in 1957.

In 1957, Elmer together with three colleagues (Ed Gilbert, Robert M. Howe, J.B. King) founded Applied Dynamics Incorporated (ADI), a company that initially designed and built state-of-the-art analog computers. Elmer continued in a consulting role with ADI until 1970. ADI continues in Ann Arbor as Applied Dynamics International, designing and building real-time simulation systems using digital technology.

Elmer joined the University of Michigan faculty as an Instructor in 1954, where he began a long and distinguished career in engineering research and teaching, becoming a Full Professor in 1963. Much of his work was in theory and application of control systems. Many of his solutions to problems in control theory have become standard references in academic literature and textbooks. He authored over 100 publications and held 9 patents. Over the course of his career, he held visiting professorships at the United States Air Force Academy, Johns Hopkins University, University of Minnesota, and National University of Singapore. Among his many honors and awards were election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the University of Michigan Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. (His CV and professional biography are at websites http://bit.ly/2YsyAt1 and http://bit.ly/2Kfcy3z respectively.) From start to finish, Elmer’s career home was the University of Michigan, and the Department of Aerospace Engineering was his paradise on earth.

Elmer was always curious and creative in how his work could be applied to real-world problems, including aircraft flight efficiency, optimization of rocket trajectories, path planning for robots in the presence of complex obstacles, and sway control of large cranes moving heavy objects. He loved teaching and inspiring his students, and gained inspiration from them. Close professional and personal relationships with them over the years brought him great joy. After retiring from the University of Michigan in 1994 as Professor Emeritus, Elmer continued to be a mentor and collaborator. He loved new intellectual challenges, and quite recently explored applying control theory to reprogramming human cells with a research group in engineering, mathematics, and biology.

While Elmer was passionate and dedicated in academia, he enjoyed many other interests, including modern architecture and design, being an early bird for roses at the Farmers Market, music of many genres (classical to rock, big band to new age), photography with his Nikon F-1 camera, cooking complex and simple recipes, canoe trips in northern waters, and being in nature in all seasons (this included shoveling snow up north). He helped architect Robert C. Metcalf in design, construction, and updates of two homes (Ann Arbor, Michigan; Crystal Lake, Beulah, Michigan) and delighted in living in them for decades. He loved long walks, especially along the shores of Lake Michigan and on woods trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He loved trees, flowers, water vistas, and beautiful skies. He and his wife Lois (Lois M. Verbrugge) enjoyed traveling to beach and forest places, scuba diving, swimming, hiking in Colorado, watching professional sports, and the beauty of Crystal Lake. He was a much-loved uncle for his two nieces and nephew, Anne, Linda, and Mark, and an abiding friend of Lois’s sister Martha. Elmer’s gentle nature, patience, kindness, and warmth toward others touched all who knew him professionally and personally. Elmer was preceded in death by his beloved twin brother, Ed. He is survived by his wife Lois; his sister-in-law Peg Gilbert (Margaret G.); his nieces and nephew, Anne E. Gilbert, Linda M. Gilbert, and Mark E. Gilbert (wife Carol E. Lively); their children (Dillon and Darby Hakken, Lydia and Meredith Gilbert); his sisters- and brother-in-law, Anne V. Martin, Robert R. Verbrugge, and Martha H. Verbrugge; and their children (Christopher Martin, Katrina and Julia Verbrugge).

An event to honor and celebrate Elmer’s life will take place Saturday, 14 September 2019 in Boeing Auditorium, François-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Building (1320 Beal Avenue), University of Michigan, with a morning symposium highlighting his engineering legacy (10:00a-noon), and an afternoon program of personal memories and celebration (1:00-2:00p). The public is welcome to attend the morning and/or afternoon portions of the event. Details are at the website https://bit.ly/2GAd37u. Donations in Elmer’s name can be made to the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association (“for research activities”, P.O. Box 89, Beulah, Michigan 49617; crystallakewatershed.org).


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