An international leader in the mechanics of solids and structures, Ares J. Rosakis ’80 Sc.M., ’82 Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2020/2021 Horace Mann Medal. Rosakis is recognized for his research and mentoring skills, as well as being “a champion of societal impact that can be realized through the sciences,” shared Sorensen Family Dean of Engineering Larry Larson in his nomination. The Medal is awarded at Commencement to a Brown University Graduate School alum who has made significant contributions in their field.
Rosakis currently serves as the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he started in 1982 as the Institute's youngest tenure track faculty member. In the Brown tradition, his work is highly interdisciplinary and combines basic science and technology.
During his career, Rosakis has made a number of pioneering contributions to his field. One of his research interests combines engineering fracture mechanics and geophysics. Rosakis collaborated with seismologists to design experiments that accurately mimic the movement of the Earth’s crust during an earthquake in a controlled laboratory setting. One of his biggest contributions in geophysics is the experimental discovery of super-shear ruptures (super-fast shear cracks that exceed the shear wave speed of the host solid), a phenomenon that is also observed during the rupturing of natural faults resulting to very destructive, super-shear earthquakes and tsunamis. His work has helped scientists better understand the release of energy from large earthquakes in the form of seismic waves and how to apply this information to create safer buildings and infrastructure.
His research on the reliability of space materials and structures against meteoroid impacts is also notable. He invented a number of full field optical diagnostic techniques, including the Coherent Gradient Sensor (CGS). By combining analytical models with the CGS measurements, Rosakis made influential advances to the mechanical reliability of microelectronic devices. He also applied the CGS technique, combined with high-speed photography, to evaluate the strength of metallic alloys, ceramics and polymers under impact, as well as to the study of micrometeorite impact on space structures.
Rosakis also invented the fastest existing high-speed, full-field, microprobe infrared thermal camera (1 million frames/second), which provided the first full-field recording of the transient temperature field developed during dynamic localized shear deformation.
In addition to his research, Rosakis is an exceptional teacher and mentor to many students. “He has a unique way to bring any topic to life, however complex or mathematical it may be. He would break down the complex concepts into simple and elegant ideas without losing the rigor,” says Pradeep Guduru, Brown Professor of Engineering and a former student of Rosakis’.
At Caltech, Rosakis served as the Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, overseeing the largest of the six academic divisions at the institution (or more than a third of the Institute’s faculty and forty percent of the student and postdoctoral fellow population). Prior to this position, Rosakis served as the Director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, which is the parent institution of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As a world-leading researcher, Rosakis has also received some of the highest professional distinctions awarded to an engineer. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, for his research interests “spanning a wide spectrum of length and time scales and range from the mechanics of earthquake seismology, to the physical processes involved in the catastrophic failure of aerospace materials, to the reliability of micro-electronic and opto-electronic structures and devices.” He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as five more National academies around the world.
In 2017 he was elected Honorary Fellow of the International Congress on Fracture and Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. Most recently, he received the prestigious Timoshenko Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for his study of the mechanics behind earthquakes, which is the highest Applied Mechanics honor awarded by ASME.
Beyond his own research, Rosakis has been a decades-long champion of advancing energy sustainability and of promoting higher education around the globe. He participated in the establishment of the Resnick Energy Sustainability Institute working towards transformational advances in energy science and technology through research, education, and communication.
He also pioneered the creation of prestigious international fellowships and joint academic programs with Governments and Institutions in France, Spain and India, including a dual master’s program with École Polytechnique in France which received the 2010 Andrew Heskel Award for innovation in International Education from the Institute of International Education in New York. In 2012, the prime Minister of France, awarded him the title of Commander of the National Order of Academic Palms (Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques, 2012) for his role in promoting French and international higher education.
He has published over 250 research articles and book chapters in peer reviewed journals and is the holder of 13 U.S. patents. His students and postdocs occupy influential academic, industry and research positions across the world. Rosakis received his Bachelor of Arts and master's degrees in engineering science from Oxford University. He went on to earn his Sc.M. (1980) and Ph.D. (1982) degrees in Engineering (solid mechanics and structures) from Brown University.