The distinguished career of Dr. Jon Peterka, Part I

CPP, Inc., is at once delighted and filled with regret to announce the retirement of Dr. Jon Peterka, one of our company’s original three founders. Jon’s last day of active service with CPP was February 28, 2014. Although we are sorry to see Jon go, we are excited for the new opportunities and experiences that await him in the coming years.

In celebration of Jon’s illustrious career, we reflect back at his more than 50 years of contributions to wind engineering and look ahead to what the future will bring.

Part I: The Academic Years

Jon Peterka’s career in wind engineering started almost as quickly as his undergraduate program. During his third year as an undergraduate student at Colorado State University (CSU), Jon began working in the laboratory of Dr. Jack Cermak, with whom he would eventually found the company that is now CPP. Jon earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from CSU before attending Brown University for doctoral studies in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.

After earning his Ph.D. at Brown, Dr. Peterka served for three years at the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama, where the seed was planted for what would later prove to be one of the most notable aspects of his career: forensic engineering. Jon arrived in Huntsville just six months after a series of detonations on the launch pad had puzzled engineers working on the MGM-52 Lance missile. By applying numerical techniques by hand, Peterka successfully predicted the detonation behavior to within 0.01 seconds.

In 1971, Dr. Peterka returned to Colorado and accepted a tenure-track position as a professor of Civil Engineering, a role he would continue to serve until 1993. It was as a CSU professor that Jon’s career in wind engineering assumed the form that is so widely recognized today.

Working alongside his former advisor, Dr. Cermak, Jon began to study in detail how buildings responded to wind. The first wind loads study that Jon supervised took a team of students and professors working two shifts a day, six days a week, for six weeks to gather data that today’s engineers at CPP can measure in less than an hour.

In the coming decade, Jon was instrumental in improving the lab’s technical capabilities. So much so, that by the late 1970s, industry had taken notice. The university laboratory was performing so many projects for commercial clients that a new approach was clearly required. An approach that would allow researchers to study the fundamental problems of wind engineering while still offering the private sector the resources for which there was clearly a demand.

In 1981, the pair founded Cermak, Peterka, and Associates.

(To be continued next week in Part 2)