Longtime engineering professor, former presidential adviser dies

Media Credit: Photo courtesy Emel Cambel.

Ali Çambel died at the age of 91 earlier this month. Çambel worked at the University for nearly two decades.

Ali Çambel, a former professor who specialized in chaos theory in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, died this month. He was 91 years old.

Ali Çambel had worked at GW for nearly two decades, and became a professor emeritus when he retired about 15 years ago. A two-time presidential adviser on energy issues, Çambel died Oct. 7 at his home in McLean, Va., his daughter Emel Çambel said.

She said the GW community would remember her father most for the close bonds he formed with the students in his chaos theory and quantum physics classes.

“He had a lot of connections with students, and then they became a large part of his life later in terms of his professional life and his personal life,” she said.

Before he came to GW, Çambel was asked to work for the federal government on several engineering projects, many of which had to do with energy, his daughter said. He served as the vice president for research at the Institute for Defense Analysis, a think tank affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense.

In 1963, he became the staff director of the Intergovernmental Energy Study, a group of scientists that advised the president on energy policy. Çambel advised two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

“It was a high-security job,” his daugther Emel said. “He was very proud of that because he had a pretty high security clearance, so there’s a whole lot he couldn’t talk about.”

Çambel later served as the dean of engineering and applied sciences at Wayne State University, as well as the institution’s executive vice president for academic affairs in 1967.

Charles Garris, a longtime engineering professor, said he became close friends with Çambel after Çambel invited him to dinner to welcome him as a new professor on campus. He said Çambel was known for his “distinguished” credentials.

“He was always known at GW as a man of great principle,” Garris said.

Garris remembered Çambel as social with the faculty in the engineering department, saying Çambel often held parties at his house.

“He was also a very modest guy. He was always willing to sit down and talk to people and give advice,” Garris said.

Çambel was born in Merano, Italy, and later moved to Istanbul with his parents, where he attended Roberts College. He left Turkey in 1942, and received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and mathematics from the University of Iowa.

He is survived by his three daughters, Emel, Leyla and Sarah, as well as six grandchildren.

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