William Klug, 39, UCLA engineering professor whose research crossed disciplines

Jun 2, 2016

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

William S. Klug, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, died June 1 in a shooting in his office in UCLA’s Engineering IV building. He was 39.

Klug, a beloved and committed scholar, conducted life-saving research that also involved colleagues from UCLA’s engineering, science and medical faculty. He specialized in computational biomechanics and the mechanics of biological systems, such as cancer cells.

Klug had been a member of the UCLA community since his days as a graduate student, from 1998 through 1999, when he earned a master’s degree in civil engineering. He went on to earn a doctorate from Caltech in 2003, and then returned to UCLA that year as a faculty member of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. Klug held appointments in mechanical and aerospace engineering and in bioengineering, and he was promoted to full professor in 2015.

“Our entire UCLA family is mourning the loss of Professor Klug, a respected, dedicated and caring faculty member,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block wrote in a statement to the campus community. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Professor Klug’s wife, Mary Elise, his two children, and his extended family, friends and colleagues. … Let us remember and be grateful for the wonderful gifts and talents Professor Klug shared with us at UCLA.”

Among his recent research projects, Klug was collaborating with colleagues at the David Geffen School of Medicine in running the UCLA Cardiac Modeling Group. Funded by a $4.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the researchers were applying biomechanics to cardiology research with the goal of better understanding the electromechanics of the heart.

His previous research provided a clearer picture of the physics of cells and their organelles, which had applications for understanding the life cycles of viruses like HIV. He was also director of the Klug Research Group, which studied computational biomechanics, including how biological structures’ shape and mechanics affects their function.

“This is a terrible moment,” said Tsu-Chin Tsao, chair of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We lost a professor who cared a lot about his students and who was on a very positive trajectory. My heart goes out to his family right now.”

Klug received a number of prestigious awards, including a 2008 National Science Foundation Career Award of $475,000 over five years and his department’s Samueli Teaching Award in 2007. In his career, he used that and other grants to support research by a number of doctoral and post-doctoral scholars whom he worked with or mentored. In 2012, he was honored by Westmont College, his undergraduate alma mater, as a distinguished alumni.

While on sabbatical in 2012, he served as a visiting scholar at both Caltech and USC. He was engaged in the UCLA community, serving as a member of numerous campus committees, as a reviewer on a dozen academic journals and as an organizer for a half-dozen conferences.

“Bill was one of the most talented, intelligent and caring people I have ever known, and he made enormous contributions in the field of computational biomechanics,” said UCLA professor Jeff Eldredge, who met him in 1999 while they were both doctoral students at Caltech. The pair joined the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UCLA on the same day.

“While sharing a lab with him these past 13 years, I have watched him mentor a series of great research students,” Eldredge said. “I had looked forward to us growing into old grouchy professors together, and I’m very sad to lose a dear friend and colleague and the many years of future collaboration and camaraderie that have vanished for no sensible reason. We have lost someone truly special. My thoughts are with his wife and children.”

In reviews of his classes, even students who bemoaned the large amount of homework he assigned described him as kind, helpful and patient. Some also mentioned his sense of humor, noting that he made his lectures available online, but to encourage class attendance turned off his microphone when describing what kinds of questions would be on his tests.

Klug was born on June 19, 1976, and lived in El Segundo, California. He is survived by his wife, Mary Elise, a fellow graduate of both Westmont and UCLA, and their children, 9 and 7.

A vigil is planned by the engineering school at 4 p.m. Friday at the UCLA Court of Sciences. A student vigil is scheduled tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Bruin Plaza on campus.

By Alison Hewitt
Originally posted at the UCLA Newsroom.

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