Contact: Pamela Bogdanski

Department Administrator

Chemical Engineering

(734) 764-7368

3074E H.H.Dow

James Wilkes | Faculty

James Wilkes

Professor Emeritus, Chemical Engineering

3146A HH Dow
(734) 764-3366


Short Bio

James O. Wilkes has won the College of Engineering Edward Law Emeritus Outstanding Service Award for 2016–2017.

Professor Wilkes (Jim) received his bachelor's degree from Cambridge in 1954 and his master's and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1956 and 1963, respectively. All degrees were in chemical engineering. He was a faculty member at Cambridge for four years before coming permanently to the University of Michigan in 1960. He was an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor from 1989-1992, and Assistant Dean for Admissions in the College of Engineering from 1990-1994. He retired from the University of Michigan in 2000 and a significant undergraduate scholarship fund has been established in his honor. In 2007, he was elected a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Jim is a life member of the English Place-Name Society and a Patron of the New Victoria County History of Hampshire project.

Jim, former chairman of the department, has interests in digital computing, numerical methods, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. He is coauthor of two books published by John Wiley & Sons: Applied Numerical Methods (1969), and Digital Computing and Numerical Methods (1973). More recently, Prentice Hall has published his text, Fluid Mechanics for Chemical Engineers, Second Edition, with Microfluidics and CFD (2006).

As a student, Jim took the first-ever digital-computing course at Michigan, in Fall 1955.  From 1960-2000, he enjoyed a close friendship and a remarkable period of collaboration with his fellow faculty member, Brice Carnahan. Jim and Brice worked together in writing textbooks and teaching courses on numerical methods.  For more than 25 years, they also supervised the instruction of digital computing to the freshmen in the College of Engineering, coauthoring countless manuals on many aspects of that subject.


University of Michigan
PhD CHE '63
MS CHE '56

Cambridge University
BS CHE '54

Last Updated: January 2015

Research Interests

Numerical methods and their solution of engineering problems, with applications such as the underground storage of natural gas, injection molding of fiber-reinforced polymers, and leveling of paint films. Solution of partial differential equations by finite-element and finite-difference methods.

Professor Wilkes' hobbies include reading, gardening, cycling, organ-playing, and hiking in North Wales and the American West. In 2015, he completed the editing of his grandfather’s manuscript, Place-Names of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and published it as a 624-page hardcover book, including 200 illustrations, many in colour.

Catching up with Jim Wilkes After a Decade

James Wilkes has been enjoying life as an emeritus professor since 2000. Until recently, when spine surgery curtailed some of his pursuits, Jim had been very active in playing tennis, and with his wife, Mary Ann, mountain-walking in Big Bend National Park. He has continued to teach for a few weeks every year in Bangkok, 2010 marking his 15th visit to the Petroleum College at Chulalongkorn University. At home, he is a keen gardener, and practices his large 3-manual electronic organ regularly. Two years after retirement, in 2002, he completed A Century of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan.  In 2006, Prentice-Hall published the second edition of his 773-page textbook, Fluid Mechanics for Chemical Engineers. He is currently editing his grandfather’s beautifully illustrated 1,000-page manuscript, Place-Names of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, in which his grandfather traced the names of all the hamlets, villages, and towns in the county to their origins—which are mainly Anglo-Saxon.

He continues to take an active interest in selecting recipients for the undergraduate scholarships established in his name—and kindly endowed by alums and friends at his retirement. Jim’s father-in-law, William Gibson, endowed a similar scholarship fund, named after his late wife, Helen B. Gibson, who died in 1997.

During his 40-year career at Michigan, Jim was a pioneer in the numerical solution of partial differential equations, both by finite-difference and finite-element methods. A native of Southampton, England, Jim obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cambridge in 1955 and completed a master’s degree at Michigan in 1956, thanks to a fellowship awarded to him while a student at  Cambridge. He returned to England for four years as a faculty member at the University of Cambridge, coming back to the U-M in 1960 to study for his PhD (1963) with Stuart Churchill.
At the U-M, Jim was most at home in the classroom, where he mainly taught fluid mechanics and numerical methods. He was recognized many times for his dedicated classroom teaching, being a first recipient in 1980 of the College of Engineering’s Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award. In 1987, he received the highest University of Michigan award for classroom teaching—the Amoco Good Teaching Award, and was named an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor from 1989–1992.
Jim was department chairman from 1971–1977 and Assistant Dean for Admissions from 1990–1994. For many years he was co-editor of the Class and Home Problems section of Chemical Engineering Education, and Associate Editor of Chemical Engineering Research & Design.


The Collaborative Years

Brice and Jim worked closely and extensively together in two main areas—numerical methods and freshman digital-computing education. Their early work was influenced greatly by their senior faculty colleague Don Katz’s landmark project, “The Use of Computers in Engineering Education,” generously sponsored by the Ford Foundation and for which Brice was a major assistant director.

At Don’s “suggestion” (i.e., command), Brice and Jim wrote with H.A. Luther from Texas A&M “a few notes” on numerical methods. Just 18 months of very hard work led to their enormously successful text, Applied Numerical Methods—first as a 790-page preliminary paper-back edition in 1964 and then, with 40 FORTRAN programs, as a 622-page large-format hardcover version, published by Wiley in 1969.  It was very popular nationally for the following 20 years.  Based on their book, supplemented by notes on recent developments, Brice and Jim taught one and sometimes two popular graduate numerical methods courses, ChE 508 and 608, every year until their retirement.
For various extended periods since 1967—and continuously from 1981 to 1996—Brice and Jim were responsible for organizing and supervising the freshman engineering digital-computing courses at the U-M—an enterprise that constantly grew in magnitude and complexity.  Very frequently—sometimes annually—Brice and Jim updated their two books for use in these freshman courses, the last titles being FORTRAN for the Macintosh and IBM PS/2  (1994) and The Macintosh, the PC, and Unix Workstations  (1995): Operating Systems and Applications.

Almost all of Brice’s and Jim’s books appear with the authors below.


Article from the 2011 ChE Alumni Newsletter