Reminiscences: The Past President – Prof. Victor F.B. de Mello

The Past President – Prof. Victor F.B. de Mello

The following interview with Prof. Victor F. B. de Mello, has been previously published, in Portuguese, in the Newsletter of the Brazilian Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (e-ABMS, n. 22, August, 2006).

Interviewer: Brazilian Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering

ABMS stands for Brazilian Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering

Name: Prof. Victor Froilano Bachmann de Mello
Citizenship: Brazilian (1951) and, in parallel, Portuguese-European (re-acquired) Undergraduate studies: MIT, B.Sc. in Civil Engineering, June ’46 Graduate studies: MIT, M.Sc. in Civil Engineering, September ’46 and D.Sc. in Civil- Geotechnical Engineering, December, ’48  Main awards: world-wide (that is, OUR HOMELAND) recognition and from co-citizens in the wide-encompassing profession and outside it, in activities with a firm, unique objective (e.g. Academies of Science and Engineering, Rotary, etc.). Invention Patent U.S. (Patent n. 2651619, 1951 – chemical solidification of soils). President of the ISSMFE, Golden Jubilee, San Francisco, 1985. Global network of dedicated friends. Main activities: learn insatiably, inquire, update and innovate by cross-fertilisation: decide and act in any jobs where he could be useful, always counting on dedicated and enthusiastic disciples.

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Victor’s photo taken in 1977 for the Rankine Lecture

ABMS: What facts led to your interest in Civil Engineering?

VFBM: When I was about 7 years old, I was impressed by a bridge being built to replace the ferry-boat. I was immediately ravished by the purpose of Civil Engineering, to conform Nature to the benefit of the quality of life and of the environment.

ABMS: Tell us about your graduate studies at MIT.
VFBM: Out of high school, in December 1941, I was admitted to the Polytechnic (ETH-Zurich), however inaccessible. Incredibly fortunate coincidences led me to advance 2,5 years in College in Allahabad and Lahore (India), and to be admitted to MIT, where I should be on July 1st, 1944. Sailing from Bombay, in a boat carrying some 6700 souls, among which the Rector (Lahore), brother in law of Pres. Compton (MIT), we were lucky enough to leave ahead of time, thus escaping the third largest explosion of the war, on April 14, 1944, which destroyed 6 x 15 blocks in the dock area.

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Victor delivering a speech in the Delhi Conference

End of war period, 70% of the students in the armed forces, the rest from neutral countries, especially from Latin America. I accelerated taking about 150% of the curricular units, and also working in the Central Library and in the Cafeteria for self-maintenance, in addition to the fellowship received from the end of the first quarter on. The “Brave New World” (Huxley) and the horrendous military successes (e.g. Los Alamos and the Atomic Bomb) strengthened my priesthood attitude and goal.  

Finished my M.Sc., I was hired by COBAST-LIGHT, just to be subsequently dissuaded in favour of a RESEARCH ASSISTANTSHIP to head a research project in GEOTECHNICAL-CHEMISTRY, solidification of soils for rapid construction of airfields, while dedicating about one third of my time to my D.Sc. studies.

It has all been quite intense, both academically and socially (e.g., creation of the International Club, support to Antonio de Almeida, Baron, student coming from Buenos Aires, in his efforts to establish a 100-member symphony orchestra). Cycle of lectures at the Rotary about colonial policies. The privilege of making personal acquaintance with Norbert Wiener (CYBERNETICS) and many Nobel prize winners.

ABMS: What is it that attracts you most in the geotechnical profession?
VFBM: What attracts me most is the aforementioned priesthood purpose. It occurred to me, in a lecture, to declare “Choose your love and love your choice”. From the professional viewpoint, I am attracted by (1) the immeasurable Divine creativity of never presenting us with two simple, identical cases, everything being complex and random, except after the diagnosis of being amenable to simplification and thereby reasonably similar; (2) the Challenge of Diagnostic, of Determination, of Decision in spite of Uncertainty.  >> Read More