Professor Roger Owen

Elected: 2010 Founding Fellows

Area(s): Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics

Specialist Subject(s): Engineering

Roger J. Owen FREng, FRS, FLSW (1942 – 2020)


 Roger Owen was born on 27th May 1942 in the village of Bynea, near Llanelli. His parents were Evan William and Margaret Owen. His father was mathematically gifted, but was denied an extended education in order to work in the family concern. His mother looked after the family home, as well as supporting the family business.

His initial education took place at Bynea Primary School. When he was ten he was successful in the “Eleven Plus” examination and entered Llanelli Boys Grammar School. He specialised in science and studied a curriculum leading to O-Level examinations, followed by two years sixth form study in Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics.

Roger then joined University College, Swansea to study Civil Engineering. It is worth noting that Roger was the first of his family to have the opportunity to go to university. After Swansea, he read for a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, USA, in the field of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. This work, and also his early post-doctoral experience as Walter P. Murphy Research Fellow at Northwestern, involved the analytical study of fundamental nonlinear material deformation.

He subsequently returned to Swansea to take up an academic post, where under the influence of Prof. Zienkiewicz, he developed an interest in computational methods. From that time, his research group has contributed prominently to the development of computational strategies for plastic deformation problems, both for fundamental material studies and for application to engineering structures and components.

His early work involved the development of finite element methods for the solution of small strain elasto-plastic problems. He introduced anisotropic effects into the computational modelling of elasto-plastic plates and shells and studied the analysis of laminated plates and shells. He then moved on to look at the computational treatment of elasto-plastic problems involving finite strains. Damage models were then incorporated within the finite strain elasto-plastic framework.  A natural extension of finite strain modelling is the need for adaptive mesh refinement to accommodate the gross geometric deformations involved in such problems. Over the last three decades he has been engaged in the development of appropriate computational methods for the simulation of large problems.  Commencing from early work on shared memory machines, his work on parallel processing strategies involved implementation on distributed memory platforms. Roger Owen then focused on the development of discrete element methods for particulate modelling and the simulation of multi-fracturing phenomena in materials.  More recently, he become involved in research for describing random media fields in stochastic finite element modelling with a view to accounting for both uncertainties in the distribution of material properties and the presence of internal fractures in geo-mechanical and other solids.

Over his career Roger Owen authored seven textbooks and over four hundred scientific publications. His research activities led to the supervision of some 70 Ph.D. students. In addition, he presented over 100 Keynote and Plenary lectures. Roger very much enjoyed all aspects of research meetings and conferences. As well as the serious scientific content of these events, there was inevitably the opportunity for good meals, excursions to local places of interest, not to mention late night discussions in bars.

Roger’s research has been recognised by numerous awards and distinctions, the following being a selection:

  • Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, 1996.
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, 2009.
  • Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, 2010.
  • Foreign Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering (NAE), 2011.
  • Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), 2011.
  • Honorary D.Sc. University of Porto, Portugal 1998.
  • Honorary D.Sc. Ecole Normale Superieure de Cachan, France 2007.
  • Honorary D.Sc. Polytechnic University of Catalunya (UPC), Barcelona, Spain 2012.
  • Honorary D.Sc. University of Split, Croatia 2016.
  • Honorary Doctor of Engineering Swansea University, UK 2016.
  • Honorary D.Sc University of Cape Town, 2019
  • The Warner T. Koiter Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 2003 for “contributions to the field of theoretical and computational solid mechanics”.
  • The Gold Medal of the University of Split, Croatia in 2004 for “international achievements in the field of computational mechanics”.
  • The Premium Medal of the Spanish Society for Computational Mechanics (SEMNI) in 2005 in “recognition of his outstanding scientific work”.
  • The Grand Prize of the Japan Society for Computational Engineering and Science (JSCES), 2010.
  • Honorary Professor of China Agricultural University, Beijing, China in 2014.
  • Honorary Professor of Wuhan University, China in 2014.
  • The China Friendship Medal, China, 2016.

In addition to the academic achievements listed above, Roger Owen was also a successful entrepreneur. Beginning from a staff of two, his company Rockfield Software Ltd., grew to 35 employees in the UK and 10 in Australia by the time of his retirement as Chairman in 2010.  Rockfield has twice been granted the Queen’s Award for Innovation.

Roger Owen leaves a wife Janet (Pugh) who he met while still at school. She was a member of a prominent Llanelli family who owned a major furniture store, Pugh Brothers, in Llanelli. They had two daughters, Kathryn born in 1967 and Lisa in 1970 and one granddaughter, Bethan, born to Lisa in 2002.

Roger was a keen sportsman. From the age of 14 to 36 years he devoted himself to rugby football. He played for over fifteen years at a very competitive Welsh level, measured in terms of lost teeth and broken bones! After rugby, he took up tennis. After tennis he progressed to golf. When he reached the age of 40 he took up flying and gained a private pilot’s licence. He subsequently became the co-owner of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk and enjoyed the next 20 years flying around the UK.

Throughout his career, Roger Owen excelled in the development of his research field and its industrial application.  He rightly received widespread international recognition for his achievements as outlined above.


Hywel Thomas and Chenfeng Li.