Obituary for Prof. Urai

  Prof. Urai Copyright: © GED/ RWTH Aachen  

The Division of Geosciences and Geography mourns the death of university professor

Prof. Dr. Janos Lajos Urai

born on October 16, 1953 in Budapest

died on May 28, 2023 near Namur, Belgium


We mourn with great sadness the death of our colleague Professor Janos Urai, who died in a fatal accident while mountain climbing on 28.5.2023.

Prof. Dr. Janos Lajos Urai was a world-renowned scientist who advanced structural geology with his pioneering, fundamental and applied research. He combined field work with quantitative experimental and numerical approaches. His topics were cross-scale and ranged from the nanoporosity of cap rocks, recrystallization processes, the rheology of salt rocks, the evolution of microstructures in veins, to the large-scale evolution of tectonic faults. His H-index of 64 reflects his strong publication record. Janos' excellent academic achievements were recognized by the German Geological Society - Geological Association 2022 with the Steinmann Medal. With his death, the geoscientific community and especially structural geology loses a great scientist.

Janos Urai was born in Budapest, Hungary, on Oct. 16, 1953. He fled with his parents and sister as a teenager from Hungary to the Netherlands. There he studied at Leiden University from 1974-1980. In 1983, he received his PhD on "Deformation of wet salt rocks" under Henk Zwart, whom he followed to the Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht. His postdoctoral work took Janos to the State University of New York at Albany in 1984 to Win Means, and between 1985 - 1989, endowed with the multi-year C&C Huygens Fellowship, to the University of California at St. Davies (1986) and to Mervin Paterson at the Australian National University in Canberra (1987), among others. From 1989 to 1996, Janos Urai then worked as a senior research scientist in the research department at Shell in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, where his work included the impermeability of cap rocks.

Driven by an irrepressible thirst for action, Janos Urai followed the call to RWTH Aachen University in 1996 and established the teaching and research area Geology - Endogenous Dynamics there with his steadily growing team. Initially equipped with almost no infrastructure, he was able to develop his professorship into a modern research institute with laboratories for rock deformation, sandbox laboratory and Cryo-BIB scanning electron microscope over a period of 24 years, solely through the acquisition of third-party funding. Janos Urai's application-oriented research with the new cryo-REM analytics resulted in 2014 in the spin-off MAP - Microstucture and Pores GmbH, which is managed by his former PhD students and offers microstructural analyses on the international market.

  Foto of Prof. Urai sitting in front of a mountain Copyright: © Janos Urai

In our division, Janos was division speaker 1999-2001 and he was chair of the steering group of the university library at RWTH for many years. In addition to his professorship at RWTH Aachen University, Janos Urai has been involved in the establishment of the German University of Technology GUtech in Muscat, Oman since 2004. He developed the Applied Geosciences program at GUtech as Inaugural Dean of the Faculty of Science of GUtech (2006-2012) and as Head of Department of Applied Geosciences, and continued to be associated with GUtech as Adjunct Professor since 2013. In 2019, Janos Urai took a well-deserved retirement and continued to devote his time as a consultant to geoscience projects such as salt caverns, impermeability of rocks, and most recently pumped storage power plants.

With his enthusiastic motivation and never-ending ideas, Janos guided 22 doctoral students to doctoral degrees. His high demands on himself and his team led to the one or other night shift to acquire or finalize projects. Many of his students are now in senior positions in industry. Two followed his path and are now professors themselves.

In teaching, too, he shaped many generations of students with his enthusiasm and openness, but no less high standards. Despite his creative way of explaining complex processes of structural geology with printen, pudding, chocolate and stacks of paper, many students still remember his demands during exams and seminars. So do his field trips and mapping courses, where he opened up the beauty of geology and the deformation of rocks.

Already in his student days, Janos Urai followed his passion for mountaineering, which lasted until the end. Whether El Capitan in Yosemite Nature Park in California in the 1980s, numerous peaks in the Alps, for example, Dent Blanche in Switzerland or vertical walls on Jebel Misht in Oman in recent years. Nothing seemed impossible until Pentecost Sunday 2023, when he fell to his untimely death near Namur in Belgium.

With his death, we lose a highly respected and beloved colleague, dedicated scientist and teacher, and an always life-affirming and creative person. We will cherish his memory.

Prof. Dr. Klaus Reicherter (Division Speaker)

Prof. Peter Kukla, PhD (Dean of Faculty 5)


Here you can find the obituaries of the RWTH and the Division of Geosciences and Geography.

Traueranzeige Prof. Urai RWTH

Traueranzeige Prof. Urai Fachgruppe


Here you can find a video of Prof. Urai from the RWTH on YouTube.

Portrait: Professor Janos Urai


Here you can find an article about Janos Urai from EGU-Blogs

EGU-Blogs: Remembering Janos Urai