University of Iowa

In the news: World-renowned water expert charts own path at Iowa

June 21st, 2018

By Lynn Anderson Davy, University of Iowa

V.C. Patel studied and taught hydrodynamics at the University of Iowa for nearly four decades, racking up prestigious awards and appointments and writing four books and more than 200 academic papers along the way. But when he started his career, he was headed in a different direction.

“I’m a fluid dynamicist by training, and I got my degrees in aerodynamics,” says Patel, who was born in Kenya and received a PhD in aeronautics from the University of Cambridge. “My first job was as a consultant at Lockheed Martin in Georgia. I created computer programs to design airplane wings.” 

However, a chance encounter with Lou Landweber, a professor of mechanics and hydraulics who helped make Iowa an international leader in ship hydrodynamics, changed Patel’s career path. Landweber brought Patel to the UI campus in 1970 to give a guest lecture and then convinced him to stay. Landweber became Patel’s mentor and encouraged him to switch his focus from the movement of air to the movement of water. It’s a decision Patel doesn’t regret. 

“The reason I stayed at Iowa and the reason I flourished here is because of the support of people like Lou, people for whom I had immense respect and to whom I felt incredibly loyal,” says Patel, who retired in 2007, not long after serving as the seventh director of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, one of the UI’s oldest and most active research institutes, from 1994 to 2004.