In Memoriam: James K. Mitchell, Sc.D, P.E., NAE, NAS, Dist.M.ASCE

James (Jim) K. Mitchell passed away peacefully at home in Massachusetts on December 17, 2023. Born in Manchester, N.H., on April 19, 1930. Jim received a B.C.E. degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1951, an S.M. degree from MIT in 1953, and an Sc.D. from MIT in 1956. He worked as a soil engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station (now part of U.S. Army Engineering Research Development Center) in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1955 and spent 1956-1958 as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He joined UC Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in 1958, and together with his senior colleagues H. Bolton Seed and Carl Monishmith, he was instrumental in developing a world class teaching and research program in geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering. He was a consummate teacher and researcher earning the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1963 and was named as the inaugural Edward G. Cahill and John R. Cahill Professor of Civil Engineering in 1989.  His work ethics was unparalleled and by the time he retired from Berkeley, in 1993, he had chaired 61 PhD dissertations and served as a committee member on numerous others. He was dedicated to academic and professional service and at Berkeley he served as the Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering 1979-84 and he also served on numerous Academic Senate Committees. After 35 years of serving as a Faculty member at UC Berkeley, Jim retired in 1993 and joined the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1994 where he held the rank of University Distinguished Professor. He retired from Virginia Tech in 1999, but remained active in guiding research, co-teaching courses, and presenting seminars until very recently. The last student he co-advised completed his Ph.D. in 2021, and Jim has at least one paper that he co-authored that is still in review for a conference that will be held in 2024.

In his research he made many important contributions in the area of soil behavior and soil property evaluation. His PhD work at MIT on the fabric of compacted clay (under Professor T. William Lambe) and early research at Berkeley on compacted clay, soil stabilization, and time-dependent aspects of soil behavior laid the foundation for his career-long focus on soil behavior. That also led to his foray into in-situ testing for the determination of lunar soil properties and trafficability for NASAs Apollo lunar landings.  This work led to many further developments and provided much of the underpinning for modern in-situ testing methods now in use. His publication list contains more than 500 journal publications, conference papers, reports, keynotes, and invited lectures over the years. Jims most notable contribution is his book, Fundamentals of Soil Behavior, first published in 1969, he was working on the fourth edition of this text along with co-authors Kenichi Soga, UC Berkeley, and Catherine OSullivan, at the Imperial College London.

Jims many awards include the election to the National Academy of Engineering (1976) and the National Academy of Science (1998), an honor granted to very few civil engineers. From ASCE he received Middlebrooks Award four times (1962, 1970, 1973, 2001), ASCE Normal Medal twice (1972, 1995), the ASCE H. Bolton Seed Medal (2004), the 2006 ASCE OPAL Award in Education, and he was named a Distinguished Member of ASCE (1993). Among his notable lectures were the ASCE Terzaghi Lecture in 1984 and the British Geotechnical Society Rankine Lecture in 1991.

Jim was a great friend and mentor to many of his colleagues and students. Despite his accomplishments, he was humble and always ready to learn something new. He loved the outdoors and music and was an accomplished saxophone player; an avocation that he enjoyed throughout his life. His passing is a loss for all who were fortunate to know him.

More information about the life of Professor Mitchell can be found on the James K. Mitchell Legacy website