Outlook: Ohio University News & Information

Campus mourns death of emeritus professor

Helmut Zwahlen left his mark in transportation safety
Mar 3, 2010
By George Mauzy

Helmut Zwahlen, a professor emeritus in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, died on Sunday in Athens at the age of 71.

A native of Thun, Switzerland, Zwahlen was a Russ Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) and research professor with the Ohio Research Institute for Transportation and the Environment. He joined the Russ College in 1971 as an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering.

Outside of his teaching duties, Zwahlen served as the principal investigator for numerous federal- and state-supported research projects. Many of the projects dealt with transportation, traffic safety, visibility, traffic signing, human factors, driver performance, driver eye scanning and driver risk-taking topics.

"Helmut will always be remembered as one of our first truly successful researchers in the Russ College and thereby encouraged many of us to follow his example," said Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. "Our thoughts are with his family."

Bob Judd, chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, said Zwahlen's teaching and research were influential. 

"Alumni remember him as a demanding teacher and continue to express appreciation for the high quality of his instruction," said Bob Judd, chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. "In addition, he was a prolific researcher whose work led to the creation of high-visibility highway signage in use on American highways today, where it continues to save lives." 

Zwahlen was a fellow of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and a past recipient of its A. R. Lauer Traffic Safety Award, which is given to a person for outstanding contributions to human factors aspects in the broad area of safety. During his distinguished career, he published more than 100 technical papers and reports and served on several committees of the Transportation Research Board.

Ohio University alumnus Tom Schnell, an associate professor at the University of Iowa, said Zwahlen helped him become who he is today.

"I met Helmut back in 1992 in Switzerland and helped him with some data collection in a Swiss mountain tunnel," Schnell said. "The day I met him started a long friendship and professional relationship. He convinced me to come to the U.S. to get my M.S. degree. Pretty much what I know about being a researcher, I learned from him."

An Ohio University alumnus, Zwahlen received a master's degree in industrial and systems engineering from OHIO in 1968. He also earned a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio State University and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering
from the State of Berne Institute of Technology in Burgdorf, Switzerland.

Visitation hours for Zwahlen will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, at Jagers & Sons Funeral Home, 24 Morris Ave., Athens, Ohio.


Published: Mar 3, 2010 3:20 PM

helmut zwahlen Outlook pic

Helmut Zwahlen

Search Outlook

Share this story
Email To:

A valid EMAIL TO address is required. You have entered an invalid email format.
Email From:

A valid EMAIL FROM address is required. You have entered an invalid email format.

 Top stories

Feb 4, 2003
Residence halls conserve and recycle
Feb 5, 2003
E Street to Late Night: An evening with Max Weinberg
Feb 17, 2003
Kenner Bush receives prestigious Founders Citation
Wilfred Konneker receives prestigious Founders Citation
Mar 5, 2003
The Local Girls to perform at Ohio University Lancaster Campus
Sep 2, 2003
Local artist Ora Anderson featured on WOUB's 'Afternoon Edition'

Sign up for emergency text messages.
Outlook welcomes your feedback, news items and story ideas
Share comments about the site
Submit an announcement
Share a faculty, staff or departmental achievement

Subscribe to the Outlook listserv

Tel: 740-593-2200    Fax: 740-593-1887   E-mail:
All Rights Reserved