Georgian, longtime professor of mechanical engineering, 97


John C. Georgian, who taught mechanical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis for 60 years, died Tuesday, July 6, 2010, in St. Louis after a brief illness. He was 97.

Georgian, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, joined WUSTL in 1949 as an associate professor of mechanical engineering and was promoted to professor in 1956. He taught in the mechanical engineering department until his retirement in 1981. He was selected as professor of the year by the graduating seniors in engineering the following year.

Sal Sutera, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering and past dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, says that “Georgian was established as the department’s primary teacher of machine design and turbomachinery when I joined the mechanical engineering department in 1968.” He already had a wealth of industrial experience gained at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company in Milwaukee, Sutera says.

“Georgian was definitely ‘old school’ when it came to demanding hard work of his students,” Sutera says, “but I never heard a student complain about not learning thoroughly the subject matter covered in one of Georgian’s courses.”

Georgian’s son Alan, an aerospace engineer with the Georgian Aerospace Group in St. Louis, says that for his master’s thesis, his father designed teaching models that could be used to demonstrate engineering concepts to students.

Instead of memorizing engineering formulas, he derived them as needed. He used to impress his students, his son remembers, by calculating answers to the fourth or fifth decimal place on a yard-long slide rule.

He was proud, his family says, of his invention of a new absolute temperature scale, called the MKS scale. The scale simpliflied the equations for the ideal gas law, which describes the behavior of a perfect gas under changing conditions of temperature and pressure.

While teaching at WUSTL, Georgian served as a consultant for a series of St. Louis engineering companies, helping to design a Navy gun mount cover, atomic powered aircraft, steam turbines and diesel engines and a scientific satellite.

Georgian was named for his father’s birthplace, the Republic of Georgia, because his Russian surname (Gogokhia) was considered unpronounceable in his adopted country. His father, who participated in a student uprising against the czar in 1893, came to the United States in 1896, and joined William Cody’s (Buffalo Bill) Wild West Show as one of the Cossack riders.

His son was just as adventuresome and cosmopolitan, taking leave from his teaching duties at WUSTL to serve repeatedly as a guest professor at Bengal Engineering College in Howrah, West Bengal, India; at the Institute de Technologico de Aeronautica in San Jose Dos Campos, Brazil; and at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In an article about his year in Brazil that appeared in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Georgian said that he lectured in English but his lectures were translated into Portuguese (the local language) and distributed to the students to make up for the lack of a textbook.

A native of Minneapolis, Georgian earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1938 and a master’s in engineering from Cornell University in 1940.

Georgian is survived by his second wife, Marian Edna of St. Louis; daughters Jola of Cleveland, Tenn., and Roberta of New York City; sons Richard of Lehigh Acres, Fla., Douglas of Montevideo, Uruguay and Alan of St. Louis; seven grandchildren, twelve great grand-children, and one great-great grandchild.

On the occasion of the death of Georgian’s first wife, Lyla, a flautist, the family set up a music scholarship in her honor. They ask that memorial gifts be directed to Washington University for this scholarship, now called the John C. and Lyla C. Georgian Music Scholarship Endowment. Contributions can be sent to Campus Box 1202, One Brookings Dr., St. Louis, MO 63130.