Wim Vlasblom Passed Away, a Loving Memory of a Practical Academic

Professor Wim Vlasblom
Professor Wim Vlasblom

Wim Vlasblom was already less visible for our community for some time. And still, the news of his passing away struck me1. He was my graduation professor and I do have very fond memories of him. I think my memories will give you some insight into the special person he was to me and many others.
His specialty was his ability to reduce complex problems to a balanced system of manageable models. They might have been a correctly formulated theoretical, model. But it might as well be an empirically observed behaviour. When applied, the estimated operating settings would yield you pretty accurately the calculated dredge production. Thus lowering the risk of project cost overruns or devising a cunning plan to approach the project for a guarantied success.
One of his practical academic achievements was his contribution to the success of the immense Chek Lap Kok project in Hong Kong2. As a token of appreciation for his work there he personally received one of the dredging chairs. Every student was expected to sit in this throne to take his/her graduation exam. From personal experience: you immediately feel extra stressed because of the uncomfortable seat.

Personal dredge chair given to professor Vlasblom (Credit: CEDA)
Personal dredge chair given to professor Vlasblom (Credit: CEDA)

When my own graduation did not progress, he was so kind to offer me to assist him with his lectures. For his lectures he needed pictures drawn to explain the material, which I made for him. He recognised, that the information he would be providing was mostly the same as presented in the dredging course (VOUB course) of The Dutch Association of Contractors in Dredging, Shore and Bank Protection3. He negotiated to use his pictures in their textbooks also. And I am proud that whenever I see his lecture notes or the textbooks, there are still some of my pictures in it.
Overhauling the lecture notes and the textbooks came at a crucial turning point in society: the penetration of home computing and the sprawling internet. He was keen on writing his lecture notes completely digital. We even investigated to convert the text into hypertext. Either in the form of a windows help file, so everybody could download the contents and learn off-grid. Or alternatively structure it in an http environment and put it out on the web. We were desperately seeking the best way for the structure and Wim devised a template that was very similar to what is now used by Wikipedia, although he was ahead of them by six years.

Lecture notes of professor Vlasblom and VOUB course books
Lecture notes of professor Vlasblom and VOUB course books

Where the VOUB course was available on paper in a luxurious box and treasured by the students that obtained their VOUB diploma, the TU Delft lecture notes were published as plain pdf files on the nascent internet, achieving a much wider audience. Even today, I receive requests from clients all over the world that want to have the performance of their dredge checked according to ‘the calculation methods of professor Vlasblom’. The CEDA repository is currently providing access to them and I would encourage you to check it out for yourself4.
Although Wim had a world wide impact with his online lecture notes, his personal approach in conveying his knowledge to the people around him made him a very amicable professor. Below, Wim can be seen to share his knowledge at one of his site lecture to my fellow students during our international field excursion. The quality of the picture is clearly from 1995, but it shows exactly the way I remember him from happier times. Standing in the middle of a dredging project, surrounded by his curious students and always closely accompanied by his always supporting wife Els.
Dear Els, my sympathy to you and your family for the loss of Wim.

Professor Vlasblom during a site lecture
Professor Vlasblom during a site lecture

References

  1. Prof. Wim Vlasblom, memorable key person of CEDA, has passed away, CEDA
  2. Hong Kong International Airport, Wikipedia
  3. Opleiding VOUW, Waterbouwers
  4. Dredging Equipment and Technology, CEDA

See also

Prof. Wim Vlasblom’s farewell, CEDA