Widen Tabakoff, PhD, a revolutionary of CEAS Aerospace Engineering, Passes Away at Age 95

By: Shannon Frohme
July 7, 2015

Professor Widen Tabakoff, PhD, founder of the College of Engineering and Applied Science aerospace engineering graduate program and GE cooperative education program, thesis advisor for over 150 masters’ students and 50 doctoral students, passed away on June 6, 2015.

Dr. Widen Tabakoff, 1937

Dr. Widen Tabakoff, 1937

Born in Bulgaria and educated in Germany, Widen Tabakoff first visited Cincinnati in 1957 after being invited by the U.S. army to join Werner von Braun’s world-renowned team of rocket scientists. This team would develop Saturn 5 complex that would send Apollo 11 to the moon.

In 1958, while on duty with the U.S. army, Tabakoff worked alongside the U.S. Army Engineering Division Laboratory testing materials for use in the nozzle of the Saturn V complex, when he first became acquainted with UC faculty. Professor Ray Murray, the acting department head, jumped at the opportunity to incorporate Tabakoff’s wealth of knowledge into the university by offering him a position. He full-heartedly accepted and began to lay the groundwork for why the aerospace department is what it is today.

In the midst of supporting a great number of graduate students’ research, Tabakoff created the CEAS Engineering Research Center’s (ERC) first gas dynamic & propulsion laboratories’ infrastructure that is still in use today.

Professor Awatef Hamed, PhD, speaks about her mentor then colleague and dear friend Widen Tabakoff, and of his momentous contributions to CEAS, “He was an incredibly talented engineer and innovative scientist. Even though internationally recognized for his propulsion and space research, he was modest and very generous to all, from students to colleagues and collaborators. He established the gas and propulsions laboratory and encouraged everybody, students, faculty, and partners from industry and government to utilize it.”

Upon his arrival at UC, Tabakoff was the only aerospace faculty member to have earned a PhD degree. Tabakoff obtained his Doktor-Ingenieur, in aerospace engineering from the University of Berlin in 1945.

Shortly after arriving at UC, his advanced knowledge and generous nature led him to collaborate with mathematics, physics and astronomy faculty members in order to form the Institute of Space Sciences in 1959. In the meantime he single handedly taught numerous new graduate and undergraduate courses to allow the rest of the aerospace faculty to receive their doctoral degrees.

Widen Tabakoff, PhD, with graduate students at the jet engine test facility

Widen Tabakoff, PhD, with graduate students at the jet engine test facility

The Institute of Space Sciences was the conduit for Tabakoff to establish the MS & PhD Aerospace Engineering programs. The first MS graduate was Leonard Beitch in 1959, followed by Rodney Boudreaux (MS in 1960 and PhD in 1965) who went on to become the vice president of RocketDyne.

In 1966, Tabakoff established the prestigious co-operative education program between the aerospace engineering department and General Electric (GE). By the year 2000, over 1,000 GE engineers graduated with MS and PhD degrees.

Tabakoff implemented the first externally funded research program at the University of Cincinnati, raising over $100 million during his career. Today the Gas Dynamics and Propulsions Lab in 300 Rhodes is permanently named for its founder, Dr. Widen Tabakoff, thanks to Professor Awataf Hamad, PhD, Director of the CEAS Center for Intelligent Propulsion and Advancement Life Management of Systems.

Awatef Hamed reflects, “Without his tremendous knowledge and recognized expertise by the U.S. Army and Navy, it would not have possible for UC to establish the propulsion Lab’s impressive  air supply system required for advanced aerospace research. I have strived to follow his example with $40 million dollars awards dedicated to support the aerospace engineering research infrastructure with over 10 million dollars for Eminent and Research Scholar faculty endowments. He was like a father to me and will be greatly missed.”

Dr. Widen Tabakoff’s affiliations with many professional and societal organizations and committees, included:

Along with many awards for best research papers, Tabakoff’s work was recognized by many prestigious awards throughout his lifetime, including:

  • Two (2) NASA-Lewis Recognition Awards for Creative Development of Technology in the area of Turbomachinery, 1977 and 1983
  • National Science Foundation Award for Organizing Research Programs with Indian Universities, 1983
  • ASME Fluid Machinery Design Award, 1993
  • AIAA and AFRL for “Outstanding Sustained Contribution to Air Breathing and Rocket Propulsion Research,” Jan. 1998
  • US Army "10 men of achievement" for turbo machinery erosion research

UC CEAS Dean Lim reflects, “Widen's ground-breaking contributions to the aerospace field are undisputed and are mirrored in his outstanding reputation and countless awards and honors. His legacy will live on through his work and his significant contributions to the advancement of aerospace education and research at the university. Widen Tabakoff was a kind-hearted man, a state-of-the-art researcher and a tremendous friend—he will be deeply missed by all the people whose lives he impacted.”

tabakoff


UC Magazine article by Editor John Bach,
Still Climbing, features the initial stages and progress of the aerospace engineering program highlighting Tabakoff’s early contributions to the program.

A reference of the aerospace engineering department history can be found in “Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati: Co-operative Education and Research” by A. Morrison, A. Hamad, W. Tabakoff, G. Slater & D. Dansberry,” published in honor of its 75th anniversary.

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Through the wishes of his family, in lieu of flowers upon Professor Tabakoff’s passing (June 6, 2015), we invite alumni and friends to make memorial contributions to the Professor Widen Tabakoff Memorial Fund to benefit the Aerospace Engineering Program at the University of Cincinnati through this secure, online giving site.  Individuals wishing to make contributions by mail can remit checks payable to the UC Foundation In Memory of Widen Tabakoff and send to the following address:

University of Cincinnati Foundation
P.O. Box 19970
Cincinnati, OH  45219-0970

For more information, please contact janet.ransom@uc.edu or call 513-556-6270.