Beloved engineering professor Farghalli A. Mohamed celebrated his retirement and 70th birthday in late September surrounded by colleagues, faculty, staff and friends. The gathering drew around 140 people who came to share stories, show appreciation and laugh with the professor, affectionately called “FAM.”
Emceed by Chemical Engineering and Materials Sciences Department Chair Albert Yee, the program featured 10 speakers -- Samueli School Dean Gregory Washington, UC Davis School of Engineering Dean Enrique Lavernia, materials scientist Martha Mecartney, Mohamed’s two daughters (Nahla and Nancy), former graduate student Shehreen Dheda, former CAP Chair and a professor from the School of Social Ecology (Henry Pontell), former CAP Chair and a professor from the School of the Arts (Alan Terricciano), materials scientist Jim Earthman and department manager Yi-San Chang-Yen -- as well as, of course, the guest of honor.
Mohamed was born in Egypt and earned his bachelor’s degree from Cairo University. He completed master’s and doctoral degrees at UC Berkeley, then spent five years at USC as an assistant professor, before coming to UC Irvine, where he has appointments in three of the five departments: chemical engineering and materials science, mechanical and aerospace engineering and civil and environmental engineering.
Known around campus as the friendly, fun engineering professor who hands out chocolates and wears flip up sunglasses, Mohamed joined the UCI faculty 33 years ago, when Daniel Aldrich Jr. was still the chancellor, and the School of Engineering employed only 13 regular faculty members. In 1980, there were only 30 grad students and 300 undergrads in engineering, and the school shared a building with the Schools of Physical Sciences and Social Ecology. There were no women’s restroom on the engineering side of the building. When Mohamed joined the mechanical engineering program in 1980, the program had four mechanical engineering faculty. Mohamed founded the materials science and engineering (MSE) program; specifically he created the interdisciplinary materials science and engineering concentration, known now as materials and manufacturing technology, the fully accredited MSE major and an MSE minor, and the MSE Ph.D. program.
One of the most highly cited and influential researchers in the field of materials science, Mohamed investigates the mechanical behavior of engineering materials such as metals, composites, and ceramics; the correlation between behavior and microstructure; creep and superplasticity; and the mechanisms responsible for strengthening and fracture. He is principally concerned with the relation between microstructures and the mechanical properties of materials at very high temperatures.
“Professor Mohamed put materials science at UCI on the map,” said Yee. “He is also an extremely dedicated and prolific mentor. Under his tutelage, dozens of Ph.D.s, post docs and visiting scientists from several countries learned to do world-class research."
Mecartney recalled her pride in publishing a paper with Mohamad, and being able to post the table of contents on his wall. “Farghalli is an example of the collaboration that exists at this school. He is not just interested in doing his research, getting his name out there and being the most important professor here, despite the fact that he is one of the most highly cited materials science researchers in the world. He is interested in the career of others, he is interested in knowledge and pushing frontiers. He serves as a truly great faculty member to emulate.”
A strong advocate for undergraduate participation in research, Mohamed often sought out students to get them involved in research opportunities. He was active for many years with UC LEADS (Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees), Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) and California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP), mentoring hundreds of students.
“Farghalli is what we call a triple threat,” said Dean Washington. “A great scholar, a great teacher and great in service.”
Over the years, Mohamed served on numerous department, school and university committees. Terricciano and Pontell who served with Mohamed on the Council of Academic Personnel, spoke of his diligence, thoughtfulness and courage on CAP, and of his deep and profound concern for students’ experience at UCI.
A favorite of students, Mohamed has been recognized multiple times with teaching awards, most recently with the 2011-12 UCI Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching.
“FAM made sure that we were funded, that we progressed in our careers, that our publications were of quality and that we received our degrees,” said Dheda, speaking on behalf of his students. “He gave us advice on research and on life. He has made an impact on all our careers, but more importantly on our life.”
“I am one of those people who can say, ‘I don’t know where I would be without FAM’,” says Lavernia, a former UCI engineering faculty member. “He recruited me to Irvine, and I have had the blessing and amazing fortune to be associated with him and his family ever since.”
That was a sentiment echoed by several former students who couldn’t be at the celebration but whose letters of congratulations were read by Professor Earthman.
Mohamed’s two daughters also spoke of his kindness. “There is no doubt that my dad is an intelligent man and a brilliant engineer, but what is more remarkable is he goes out of his way to help people realize and achieve their dreams,” said Nahla Farghalli. “He treats everyone like family. My father gives people chances- - and chocolates.”
“We’ve been at this campus for a really long time, in and out of my dad’s offices and labs, getting to know his Ph.D. students,” said Nancy. “You’ve all treated him with so much kindness and respect, it’s truly an honor to be here to celebrate with all of you and him.”
Speaking on behalf of the staff, Chang-Yen told the crowd how Mohamed never fails to remember every department staff person’s birthday, and how on Sundays, he puts a banana in each department staff members mailbox, so that they’ll know he is thinking of them Monday morning. “If he goes to Egypt for a couple weeks, we get two bananas.”
Mohamed graciously accepted his gifts and all the kind words, then took the floor and gave a 30-minute power point presentation. He talked about all the people he has enjoyed working with, mentioned those who still owed him lunch, showed photos and slides of wisdom and jokes, and as he has done on various occasions throughout his career at the Samueli School, closed the event with an original poem.
“… I want to thank you with all my heart.
For joining my party before I sadly depart.
UCI was wonderful to me from the start.
In joining UCI in 1980,
I was really, really smart.”