MSE Alumni Remember Professor Torstein A. Utigard (1954–2012)

Utigard, Torstein A. TAUtree_HartHouseCircle

Photos: (left) Torstein A. Utigard (1954–2012), Professor & Gerard R. Heffernan Chair in Materials Processing; (right) memorial tree planted in Hart House Circle in honour of Professor Utigard – July 2012

On April 11, 2012, our community was saddened by the loss of Professor Torstein A. Utigard (MMS MASc 8T3, PhD 8T5), who passed away peacefully after a long battle with cancer.

Dr. Utigard began his teaching career at U of T as an assistant professor in 1989. During this time, he supervised 22 MASc and 8 PhD graduates, 7 researchers and post-doctoral fellows, and mentored numerous undergraduate students.

Impact asked alumni to submit personal memories of our esteemed teacher and friend. Here are all of the submissions (select submissions were featured in the print edition of Impact, Vol. II½).

I would like to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Professor Utigard. Although I did not know him well, I know that he was a respected member in our department. God bless him.

With deepest sympathy,

Ramin Ajdar, MSE MASc 0T1

I think anyone who knew Professor Utigard would attest to his sense of coolness! He wasn’t just a professor but also an active participant outside the classroom. He would find time to interact with us socially—like defeating all of us each year in the Torstein A. Utigard (TAU) Table Tennis Tournament! He set a great example for being active and involved—an example that I try to follow to this day.

I had the chance to work with him one summer. One thing that stood out to me is how much he respected us. He would always be open to different ideas, even from a summer student. He gave me the confidence to achieve my best. That summer turned out to be one of the most fulfilling—we built our first lab-scale silicon-refining reactor.

As a supervisor he knew his students’ talents. He guided us when we needed it and gave us the freedom to explore and experiment. He was the reason I decided to pursue my MASc. I will always remember Professor Utigard as open, generous, and kind.

Nikrooz Farsad, MSE 0T7, MASc 1T0

Professor Utigard asked me a simple question in 2008 that helped me establish my career direction. At that time, when I had almost completed my MASc, he asked me whether I would like to continue onto PhD studies under his supervision. At that point, I had no clue as to what I was going to do upon graduation. Half out of not wanting to look for work, I accepted his offer. Looking back, I feel so thankful that he provided me with the opportunity—I have enjoyed my PhD studies and now look forward to pursuing a career in research.

Mark Xiang Li, MSE 0T7, MASc 0T8, PhD Candidate

I remember Professor Utigard teaching us Heat & Mass Transfer with great passion in my 3rd year. It became one of my favourite MSE classes—he made what could have been a dry and incomprehensive course seem intuitive, simple, and fun. Every time you ask him a question, he would answer with a thought-provoking question and a big smile to make you think—in hopes of guiding you to the answer.

He’s also the only person that can make you laugh while he’s beating you at ping-pong!

It saddens me that no future students will experience his lectures, and be inspired by him. I will always remember him as a brilliant professor, enthusiastic lecturer, athletic, and a humble man.

Betty Lin, MSE 0T3, MASc 0T5

I remember Professor Utigard visiting me after my cancer surgery back in 1994, when I was completing my MASc under his supervision. Torstein, as everyone used to call him, opened the doors to a better life in Canada for me—as a new immigrant—by accepting me as his graduate student with open arms and heart, just one year after my arrival in to this country. He was a great teacher, leader, mentor and above all—a great friend and human being in every sense. He is dearly missed and will be in my thoughts forever.

Henry Nazeri, MMS MASc 9T4

Dr. Utigard had a cute sense of humour. He kept things simple and showed how everything is linked to fundamental principles.

Leon Pick, MSE 0T8

My favourite memory of Professor Utigard took place outside of the classroom, when I was trying to suffer through a torturous hour at the Hart House gym between lectures. As I struggled away on an elliptical, he hopped on a machine beside me, cranked up the intensity, and proceeded to outpace me shamefully. I tried to keep up but was clearly failing—he then laughed at me and said, “You’re half my age! You should be beating me! Want to race?”

This sort of easy camaraderie and perennially cheerful attitude is what we loved most about Professor Utigard. He will be missed.

Varuna Prakash, MSE 0T8

In remembering Professor Utigard, I am put in mind of chiefly two things. First, his organized pedagogical approach, which was often displayed during the departmental seminars. Professor Utigard had a question of regular form, “I see you have a plot with a line but only one data point; how do you know the slope of the line?” I liked this question because the presenter would know Professor Utigard would likely ask it, and because it addresses the primary bases for making assertions.

Second, Professor Utigard’s usual demeanor, which was one of wry humour; he seemed to carry a half-smile with him at all times. He seemed to say, in my view anyway, that things in broad are funny. The humour may not be obvious, but it’s there nonetheless.

Neil Graham Rodway, MSE MASc 0T6

I remember when I first met Professor Utigard, I thought to myself, “wow, this has to be one of the coolest professors.” Professor Utigard is always so calm, straight-forward, and faces everything seemingly careless while efficiently addressing all issues. He must have been through a lot, knew a lot, and he will continue to carry on his spirit, as will his students.

May he bring his coolness wherever he goes.


Alan Tsung, MSE 0T9

Professor Utigard was a great inspiration to me during my time at U of T. He was not only wise, but also well-rounded. He had a fascinating background and great character. In my 4th year, he advocated one of my favourite courses, MSE 404: Extractive Metallurgy, to be offered even though there were only a handful of students enrolled for the class. Furthermore, his participation in student activities, like the TAU Table Tennis Tournament, made him approachable and allowed students to learn from him, in and out of the classroom. I will miss him and I wish his family all the best — he was a good man.

Laszlo Zsidai, MSE 0T5