By Matthew Chin
“Professor Lin was a true inspiration to me,” said William W-G. Yeh, UCLA distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering and Lin’s friend and colleague of nearly 40 years. “After his retirement, he continued to come to his office to work with his PhD students and post-docs, all the way until his passing. His presence in the department and his continued high level of outstanding research that spans over six decades have provided a model for all of us to emulate.”
Lin was born in China in 1911. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1933 from JiaoTong University. Following graduation, he was one of a select group of Chinese students to earn a highly competitive fellowship to study in the United States. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earning a master’s degree in 1936.
After MIT, Lin spent a year working at several U.S. aerospace firms, including Wright Aeronautical of New Jersey, the Glenn E. Martin Company in Baltimore and Vultee Aircraft (predecessor to General Dynamics.).
He returned to China in 1937 to work as a professor at TsingHua University in Beijing. Due to the war with Japan, he eventually took a position with the Chinese Air Force to design and build warplanes for the country.
He was first asked to refurbish Italian- and Soviet-made planes. But as World War II continued, much of the Chinese fleet was destroyed by the faster Japanese Zeros. By the middle of the war, Lin’s work turned from keeping old planes flyable, to constructing China’s own planes from scratch. With only his memory of aeronautics and a few American textbooks, Lin designed and led the building of the first twin-engine airplane made in China – a wooden bomber-turned-transport craft called the C-0101.
Without any wind tunnel tests, Lin flew on the plane’s maiden voyage. It was a success and the workers and villagers watching the event cheered when it flew by.
“I told him to fly lower so it would look faster,” Lin recalled telling the pilot for a 1991 Los Angeles Times story about the accomplishment. “The workers felt really great. They thought the plane was very good because it was so fast.”
Lin returned to the United States with his wife and three children in 1949.
Lin earned his D.Sc. from the University of Michigan in 1953. He joined UCLA Engineering in 1955 as a visiting professor and became a full professor the following year.
At UCLA Engineering, Lin made significant contributions to the safety of building materials.
Lin derived an analytical method that predicts the soundness of metal structures in airplanes, buildings and bridges. Lin’s method allowed engineers to predict how stress and strain will affect structures under various circumstances, including differing temperatures and loading conditions. He also made important contributions to the study of composite materials and the micromechanics of metals.
“Professor Lin’s research has led to much safer buildings, structures, aircrafts and other vehicles throughout the world,” said Jiann-Wen Woody Ju, UCLA professor of civil and environmental engineering. “The methods he invented will keep his memory alive for generations of engineers from many disciplines.”
Lin retired from UCLA in 1978, but continued to be active in research and teaching.
In 1988, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded Lin its Theodore von Karman medal, given for distinguished achievement in engineering mechanics. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1990, the highest professional honor awarded to an American engineer. In 2001, a Gingko tree was planted in front of UCLA’s Boelter Hall to commemorate his 90th birthday.
Lin is survived by his daughter Rita a retired school teacher; son Robert, a physics professor at UC Berkeley; son James, a mathematics professor at UC San Diego; four grandchildren and one great grandchild. He was preceded in death by his wife Ruiyi. Lin remarried to En Yu (Diana) last year.
Funeral Services will be held on Saturday, July 21 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles, 90068. Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Funeral Services will be held on the same day at 2:30 p.m. in Old North Church on the Forest Lawn grounds.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Professor T.H. Lin Scholarship Endowment for a UCLA Civil and Environmental Engineering student. Checks can be made out to: “UCLA Engineering” with “T.H. Lin Scholarship Endowment” in the memo line. They can be sent to the Office of External Affairs, 6266 Boelter Hall, Box 951600 Los Angeles, CA 90095-1600. Phone: Ext 6-0678.
Lin (top row, 9th from right) and crew in front of the Chinese designed and built C-0101 airplane. 1944. Photo courtesy of the Lin Family.