Walter Werner Wierwille, professor emeritus in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering, died Oct. 27, 2020. He was 84.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 3, 1936, Wierwille was well known for his research on driver-vehicle systems, in-vehicle driver workload evaluation, simulator and instrumented vehicle testing, impaired driver detection, and general applications of human factors research and engineering techniques to driver-vehicle systems.

Wierwille started his career at Virginia Tech in 1970 as an associate professor in two disciplines, industrial engineering and electrical engineering. He became a full professor in 1973 and assumed the Paul T. Norton Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 1988. 

From 1972 through 1996, Wierwille held the position of director of the Vehicle Analysis and Simulation Laboratory at Virginia Tech. There, his research efforts included the creation and testing of some of the world's first advanced driving simulators and in-vehicle navigation systems. In 1996, he was named senior transportation fellow and associate director at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, where he continued leading research projects until he retired in 2001.

Wierwille has been credited with saving lives by way of his significant contributions to driver safety research. His research has been referenced and implemented to improve the safety of a wide variety of vehicles and systems. He authored or co-authored more than 250 publications and presented regularly throughout his career before professional societies and sponsoring agencies. Wierwille also served as a consultant to a number of government and major industrial organizations on transportation-related problems, including 30 years of consulting and research for various entities of the General Motors Corporation and the United States government.

“Dr. Wierwille was a vital part of our human factors engineering and ergonomics group in industrial and systems engineering for many years,” said Eileen Van Aken, department head for the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “His work, and the many recognitions his achievements earned, made long-lasting contributions to educating our students, to conducting research for our sponsors, and ultimately to the department's reputation. He will be greatly missed.”

Wierwille was very active in his field; he served in several professional technical societies, became a fellow in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and was associate editor of the Human Factors Journal. 

Wierwille advised and counseled numerous students during his career, serving as the graduate advisor for 25 masters and 12 doctoral students. Of the students that he advised, John Casali, the John Grado Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, was advised by Wierwille on both his master’s and doctoral degrees. 

“I have fond memories of Walter Werner Wierwille, or W3 as he sometimes signed notes to his students and colleagues,” said John Casali. “Walter was the consummate scientist-professor, and his accomplishments across a wide spectrum of human factors engineering topics are voluminous, spanning driver-vehicle safety, aircraft pilot performance, instrument panel optimization, mental workload measurement, instrumentation for human-subject data collection and many others. 

Walter expected his many graduate students to excel and persevere toward performing the highest quality research, for which he set the standard with his role model behavior as a researcher and author. He not only superbly taught and advised students, but he was a good friend to them, and often brought them to his home in Blacksburg and his lake house, where he and his wife Barbara were so welcoming. 

He leaves an indelible legacy in the many human factors professionals who practice in our discipline today. He was truly one of the cornerstones who built the human factors program at Virginia Tech, and he will be missed by all of us who were fortunate to have known and worked with him.”

Wierwille received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1958, and his Ph.D. in 1961, both in electrical engineering.

Wierwille is survived by his wife, Barbara; his sister, Carolyn Wierwille Emrich; and his daughters, Laura Schano, Karen Wierwille Corvin, and Paula Jane Rao; his son, Walter J. Wierwille; and 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family wishes to express their gratitude to the compassionate and skilled caregivers at Amedisys and Senior Home Comfort Care. Memorials in Walter's name can be made to CurePSP at Arrangements by McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Wierwille’s full obituary is available here.

Written by Linda Hazelwood

Share this story