I. Norman Katz, engineering professor at Wash U., dies at 86

I. Norman Katz taught electrical and systems engineering at Washington University starting in 1967. 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

I. Norman Katz, veteran senior professor of electrical and systems engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University, died Tuesday, Jan. 15, in New Jersey, at the age of 86, according to an obituary posted on the university’s website.

Israel Norman Katz was born April 14, 1932 to Oscar and Gussie Katz in Williamsburg, N.Y. Dr. Katz earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Yeshiva University in 1952 and 1954, respectively, and a doctorate in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959. Dr. Katz married Judith Katz (nee Batt) on Sept. 17, 1957.

In 1959, Dr. Katz began working at the AVCO Research and Development in Wilmington, Mass., starting in 1959, as a senior scientist, a section chief and as manager of the mathematics department.

Dr. Katz joined Washington University in 1967 as an associate professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. He served as chair of the Department of Systems Science and Mathematics from 1987-2002, and was co-director of the B.S. program in Systems Science and Mathematics.

“Over the decades, he taught thousands of engineering students to develop their reasoning and creative abilities and to think independently through dozens of courses, many of which he personally developed,” read the Washington University obituary, noting Dr. Katz also published extensively in peer-reviewed journals.

“Katz’s research focused on the numerical solution of ordinary and partial differential equations, reliable algorithms, parallel computation and finite element analysis,” according to the university’s obituary. “He helped to develop the p-version of the finite element method, which is now widely accepted as a reliable computational tool in the finite element analysis of elastic structures, heat transfer and related fields, and is implemented in many commercial computer codes.”

Dr. Katz retired in 2015 after 48 years at Washington University and became senior professor.  

Dr. Katz was respected and admired not only for his scholarship and teaching, but for his warm and engaging personality and enthusiasm for studying Torah and Talmud and participating in Jewish programs on campus, according to Chabad on Campus Co-Director Rabbi Hershey Novack.

“[Dr. Katz] also chanted Torah with the precision of a scientist and the intonation of an artist,” Novack told Washington U. “He must have done it for more than 70 years, and he was very talented.”

On Sukkot, Novack said Dr. Katz would often eat lunch with students in the sukkah, and let them know that he was a scholar of both the sciences and of Jewish law and literature.

Novack noted that Dr. Katz was a student of the legendary Talmudist Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, colloquially known as “The Rav” who also officiated at his wedding. Rabbi Avi Block, a grandson-in-law of Dr. Katz, said the connection with Soloveitchik spanned many decades, starting in the early 1950s and was “treasured perhaps above any other non-family connection throughout his life.”

A memorial service was held for Dr. Katz Jan. 16 in Hackensack, N.J. He was buried Jan. 17 in Jerusalem.

Dr. Katz is survived by his wife, Judith, son Avi Katz, siblings Dr. Murray Katz and Annette Silver, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his daughter, Maidi Katz, his sister, Barbara Dershowitz. 

Memorial contributions may be made to Young Israel of St. Louis, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary — an affiliate of Yeshiva University or Washington University of St. Louis Library (earmarked for the library’s Judaica collection).