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Alfred A.H. Keil

Former Dean of Engineering Alfred A.H. Keil died on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Goddard Nursing Home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Keil, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was 88 years old.

Keil was one of the world’s leading authorities on naval architecture and ocean engineering.

“He has made a lasting contribution to the school and to the Institute through his efforts to articulate a new and broader vision of engineering education and to use the resources of the school with increased effectiveness,” wrote then-President Jerome B. Wiesner and then-Chancellor Paul E. Gray ’54 in 1977, when Keil stepped down as dean of the School of Engineering.

Professor James D. Bruce ScD ’64, an associate dean under Keil, served as interim dean after his departure. Bruce remembered Keil as a remarkable scientist and engineer, an innovative educator, and a friend. “His ideas concerning engineering and science education, though early, have stood the test of time and many are being implemented now,” Bruce told Tech Talk. “He really had a warm heart. He cared about people. I often think of seeing him with my children when they would come to the office at the end of the day.”

Born in Konradswaldau, Germany, on May 1, 1913, Keil received the Doctor of Natural Science degree from Friederich Wilhelm University in 1939. After receiving his degree, he conducted research and experimentation on the physics and effects of underwater explosions.

Following World War II, he worked for the U.S. Naval Technical Mission in Germany from 1945-46 and came to the United States in 1947 to join the Navy’s Bureau of Ships. As chief scientist of the Navy’s Underwater Explosion Research Division in Portsmouth, Va. for 12 years, he became an authority on ship protection.

Keil became technical director of the Structural Mechanics Laboratory at the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin in Washington, D.C. in 1959, and was the first technical director for the entire organization from 1963 to 1966. During this period, he made extensive contributions to improving the structural integrity and survivability of naval vessels.

Keil came to MIT in 1966 as head of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, now the Department of Ocean Engineering, the oldest academic department of its kind in the country. Under his leadership, the department added a graduate degree program in ocean engineering in 1967 and launched a joint-degree program with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1969.

Not long after his arrival at MIT, Congress passed the National Sea Grant College and Program Act. Recognizing the opportunity for MIT to benefit from participation in this new marine program, Keil succeeded in obtaining the first grant awarded by the new national program. His leadership led to the establishment of the MIT Sea Grant Program in 1970, of which he was the first director. In December 1976, MIT became the first private university in the nation to be declared a Sea Grant College.

Following his term as dean of engineering, Keil was named a Ford Professor of Engineering. In that role, he urged engineers to be concerned with the social impact of their activities, which he termed “the wiser use of science and technology.”

Among his awards and honors are two Navy Meritorious and Distinguished Civilian Service Awards, the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Award, the Gibbs Brothers Gold Medal Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Gold Medal Award of the American Society of Naval Engineers, the Lockheed Award for Marine Science and Engineering, and the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Keil is survived by his wife, Ursula (Leppelt) of Brookline; two sons, Juergen of Westerly, R.I., executive director of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Michael of Bammengal, Germany; and two granddaughters, Kristen Keil and Erika Keil, both of Boston. A memorial service for Keil will be held at the MIT Chapel on Monday, Feb. 25, from 4 to 5 p.m. A reception will follow in the Emma Rogers Room (10-340).