University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering


In memoriam: Joachim Heberlein (1939-2014)

Professor Emeritus

The Mechanical Engineering Department mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor Joachim (Jockel) V. R. Heberlein on February 17, 2014 after a long battle with ALS.
Professor Heberlein was born in Berlin in 1939. He received his diploma in physics in 1966 from the University of Stuttgart. In 1967 he came to the University of Minnesota, where he received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 1975, advised by Professor (now Emeritus) Emil Pfender.

Then, after working for fourteen years at Westinghouse R&D Center in Pittsburgh where he served as Manager of Applied Plasma Research, Lamp Research and Nuclear and Radiation Technology, he rejoined the Minnesota M.E. Department in 1989 as associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 1994 and was appointed Ernst Eckert Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 2000. He retired at the end of 2012.

Professor Heberlein published over 140 journal papers, received 13 patents, and coauthored with Pierre Fauchais and Maher Boulos the recently published textbook Thermal Spray Fundamentals (Springer, 2013).

He advised or co-advised almost 30 Ph.D. students, an equal number of M.S. students, and advised seven students through completion of their diploma theses at several European universities. He was an internationally recognized authority on the subject of thermal plasmas of the type used for industrial applications such as thermal spray coatings, plasma cutting, electrical circuit breakers, and materials synthesis. He was particularly known for his pioneering studies of arc-electrode interactions. He had many interactions with industry, including research collaborations with Hypertherm on plasma cutting, Eaton Corp. on electrical circuit breakers, and Nitto Denko Technical Corp. on nanomaterials synthesis.

Professor Heberlein played a leading role in the international plasma community, notably through his involvement for many years on the Subcommittee on Plasma Chemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), leading to the founding in 1999-2000 of the International Plasma Chemistry Society (IPCS).

Professor Heberlein was the lead writer of the statutes of foundation and bylaws of the Society, which oversees the organization of the biennial International Symposium on Plasma Chemistry (ISPC). Professor Heberlein was conference chair of the 8th ISPC, held in Minneapolis in 1995.

As one measure of his tireless devotion to the Society, he served from 1995-2008 as treasurer of the IUPAC Subcommittee and then the IPCS. He was awarded the 2009 Plasma Chemistry Award, the highest award of the Society, given to one individual at the biennial ISPC for lifetime achievement. The award was presented at ISPC-19, held in Bochum, Germany. Professor Heberlein was also active in the Thermal Spray Society of ASM International and he was elected to the Thermal Spray Hall of Fame in 2004.


Professor Heberlein was an enthusiastic supporter of international collaboration. He made numerous visits and had fruitful collaborations with colleagues and plasma laboratories in Germany, Italy, Japan, and other countries. He actively arranged exchange programs that allowed students at foreign universities (most notably, the Politecnico di Milano) to complete much of their graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, and he hosted numerous international visitors for stays of a year or more in his laboratory. A remarkable number of these visitors have gone on to positions of prominence at their home institutions and in the wider plasma community.

Professor Heberlein was a key member of the High Temperature and Plasma Laboratory (HTPL) in the M.E. Department. The HTPL is known worldwide as one of the major academic centers of plasma research. Professor Heberlein played an enormous role in promoting the lab and in maintaining its cohesive spirit.

On March 8 and 9, 2013, a celebration of Professor Heberlein’s retirement was held at the University of Minnesota, hosted by the M.E. Department, the HTPL, and the Heberlein family. Approximately 50 plasma scientists attended, from all over the world, including several European countries, Canada, Japan, and Australia. The event was a fitting affirmation of the deep esteem and affection the international plasma community held for Professor Heberlein.

Everyone who knew Jockel knew that he had an amazing work ethic. Many of us were also privileged to know him as a dear friend and colleague. His students were famously devoted to him, and he was beloved among the faculty and staff of the M.E. department. He and his wife Yuko often hosted dinner parties at their house, where they were unfailingly gracious hosts. Jockel loved music, he loved telling stories about adventures past, and he loved sharing good wine. He will be deeply missed.

The M.E. community sends its sincere wishes of condolence to Jockel’s wife Yuko, to their daughter Andrea, who lives in Boston with her husband Joshua and their two children, and to their son Markus, who lives in Tokyo with his wife Rei and their two children.


Mrs. Heberlein has asked that if you feel called to do so, consider a donation to causes that were important to Jockel. These are: