University of Texas at Austin


International Workshop Held for Leszek Demkowicz’s 70th Birthday

By Joanne Foote, Rebecca Riley

Published April 24, 2023

Demkowicz, (middle) listens in on presentations along with J. Tinsley Oden (middle right).

Guests from around the globe gathered for a celebratory workshop on April 11 in honor of Leszek Demkowicz’s 70th Birthday, hosted by the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Speakers shared research and words of appreciation for Demkowicz’s contributions in the fields of computational mathematics and mechanics and beyond.

The event kicked off the evening prior with a pre-workshop reception at the Demkowicz home. The next morning guests filed into the Avaya Auditorium for a day of learning and discussion across four sessions interrupted by the occasional coffee or lunch breaks. 

In her opening remarks, Oden Institute Director Karen Willcox paid homage to Demkowicz. “I want to wish Leszek Happy Birthday - at 70, he’s in the middle of his career at the Oden Institute,” she joked. On a more serious note, Willcox said when the Institute needs something, he’s always there, noting that he worked to build the Institute into what it is today.

In addition to his roles as Oden Institute’s Assistant Director and core faculty member, Demkowicz is a valued professor. “He is both an incredible mentor to his students and an incredible teacher. I hear teachers complain about their ratings, claiming they teach highly technical classes, and that’s why students don’t like it. But Leszek teaches the most technical classes that are extremely hard on the students, and yet he pulls down nearly perfect teaching scores every semester. That is a real sign of how much he cares about his students having a truly deep understanding of functional analysis.”

He is both an incredible mentor to his students and an incredible teacher.

— Karen Willcox, Director, Oden Institute

J. Tinsley Oden, founding director of the Oden Institute, said Leszek is a generous, highly principled and very dedicated member of the Institute. “He is loved by students and colleagues and is a legendary teacher who spends many hours with students and collaborators. He is an indefatigable worker, constantly working on papers, proposals, books, class notes and reports. He is very intelligent and is a source of many original ideas about the subjects he loves; he is a vital member of our faculty and a dear lifelong friend.”

As the day got underway, talks spanned topics related to Leszek’s life work: finite element methods, hp-adaptive methods, and minimum-residual and least-squares methods, with applications in fields ranging from computational mechanics to electromagnetics and beyond. Following each presentation, Leszek had an engaging inquiry for the speakers. 


Jacob Badger finds a unique way to honor Demkowicz during his presentation.

Many of the professor’s former students, colleagues, and collaborators were among the guests. Each took turns speaking of Leszek and his impact on both his field and those he has mentored. As his student Jacob Badger put it, “I couldn’t ask for a better advisor, and I am thankful to have been one of his students and part of this exciting work.”

Tan Bui-Thanh, director of the Center for Scientific Machine Learning recalled sitting in on some of Demkowicz’s courses fifteen years ago when he was new to the Oden Institute.   

“I truly learned mathematics,” said Bui-Thanh, who has a combined background in engineering and mathematics, in part thanks to Demkowicz. “Leszek is a good teacher. He did more than just teach – he cared that I was truly learning the subject matter.”

Through his years, Demkowicz has not only contributed to the Oden Institute’s reputation as a powerhouse of cutting-edge research but has also shaped its culture and sense of community. One well-loved example is his daily coffee break, where various graduate students, postdocs, visitors, and faculty meet in his office to enjoy coffee and tea, along with relevant and lively discussions. Demkowicz is also instrumental in organizing the ongoing seminar series and sitting on multiple committees, and in the words of Oden, Leszek’s impact has initiated several new directions for research.


Barbara Wohlmuth captures Demkowicz's work in a clever slide. She is on the Oden Institute's Board of Visitors, and faculty at Technical University of Munich (TUM).

“This event presented an opportunity to remind the world of Leszek’s extraordinary accomplishments and to thank him for all of his scientific and mathematical work,” said Oden. “He has done fundamental and original work on DPG methods, space-time algorithms, error estimates for FEM approximations, and many more. He has an excellent knowledge of current literature and trends in CSE, and he has brought a high and important level of mathematical rigor to the Institute.”

The workshop ended with a group photo to commemorate the day and a banquet at The University of Texas Club. Oden retrospectively shared words felt by all the attendees, “We all hope Leszek had a joyous, and extremely happy birthday. Working with him has been a joy and he has taught me so much.”


Workshop speakers and attendees gather for a group photo at the end of the day. Credit: Joanne Foote

Ten years ago, after the research symposium that was held in honor of his 60th birthday and this year’s workshop held in honor of his 70th, the global community of computational scientists, engineers, and mathematicians might be well advised to start booking their airline flights for his 80th — and remember to bring a coffee mug. 

In addition to serving as the Assistant Director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Demkowicz holds the W. A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Chair in Computational Engineering and Sciences. He is a Professor in the Departments of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, as well as Mathematics, at The University of Texas at Austin. He has authored and co-authored several books, over 200 journal articles, book chapters, and technical reports in the general area of computational mathematics and mechanics. His work and scientific interests span numerical analysis, adaptive finite element methods, wave propagation problems, including acoustics, elastodynamics and electromagnetics, and CFD.