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R. Byron Bird

  • Born: February 5, 1924, Bryan, Texas

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0173
Interview Date: October 1, 1998
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 61
Minutes: 129
Sponsor: American Institute of Chemical Engineers
American Institute of Chemical Engineers

  Abstract of Interview

R. Byron Bird opens the interview with a brief discussion of his childhood. Born in Texas, Bird's family moved frequently, following Bird's father, a professor of civil engineering. During high school in Washington, DC, Bird developed his interest in foreign languages, and wanted to pursue either language or music in college. However, his father pushed him towards a degree in chemical engineering. Bird completed two years of study at the University of Maryland before entering the Army to fight in World War II. When he left the Army, he resumed his studies after a brief hiatus in a biochemistry lab of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bird completed his degree at the University of Illinois, at Urbana. It was there that he decided he wanted to enter a Ph.D. program in chemistry, and he chose to study at the University of Wisconsin. While in graduate school, Bird conducted rigorous research under Joseph Hirschfelder, and went on to a post-doctoral, Fulbright grant for research in the Netherlands. Bird returned to the United States to take a teaching position in the chemistry department at Cornell University, and after a year there, accepted a position in the chemical engineering department at the University of Wisconsin. Before returning to Wisconsin, Bird spent a summer working for DuPont, where he was introduced to the subject of rheology. Bird was extremely active at Wisconsin; he introduced a curriculum in transport phenomena, and as there existed no satisfactory textbook for this subject, he wrote one with colleagues Warren Stewart and Ed Lightfoot. After publishing a few influential books in his field, Bird returned to his original interest in foreign languages and collaborated with William Shetter on two books of Dutch literature. As a result of another Fulbright, Bird spent a year in Japan as a visiting professor. Frustrated by his inability to understand technical Japanese, he produced a book outlining a program for learning technical Japanese. Bird retired in 1992, but has continued to teach at least one semester each year. He closes his interview by discussing his awards, and talking about his hobbies: music and outdoor activities.

  Education

1947 B.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Illinois
1950 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Wisconsin

  Professional Experience

University of Amsterdam

1950 - 1951

Postdoctoral Fellow, Theoretical Physics

University of Wisconsin

1950 - 1951 Project Associate in Chemistry

University of Wisconsin

1953 - 1955 Project Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Wisconsin

1955 - 1957 Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Wisconsin

1957 - 1992 Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Wisconsin

1964 - 1968 Chairman, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Wisconsin

1968 - 1972 Burgess Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

University of Wisconsin

1972 - 1992 Vilas Research Professor

University of Wisconsin

1982 - 1992 John D. MacArthur Professor

University of Wisconsin

1995 - Present Professor Emeritus

Cornell University

1951 - 1952 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1952 - 1952 Research Chemist

Technische Universiteit Delft, The Netherlands

1958 - 1958

Fulbright Lecturer and Guggenheim Fellow

Technische Universiteit Delft, The Netherlands

1994 - 1994

J. M. Burgers Professor

Kyôto University and Nagoya University, Japan

1962 - 1963

Fulbright Professor

Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

1994 - 1994

Visiting Professor

  Honors

1959 Curtiss-McGraw Award, American Society for Engineering Education
1960 Westinghouse Award, American Society for Engineering Education
1962 William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1965 Professional Progress Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1970 American Physical Society, Fellow
1972 Honorary Doctorate, Lehigh University
1973 Honorary Doctorate, Washington University in St. Louis
1974 Bingham Medal, Society of Rheology
1974 Warren K. Lewis Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1977 Honorary Doctorate, Technische Universiteit Delft, The Netherlands
1979 Honorary Doctorate, Clarkson University
1981 American Academy of Arts and Science, Fellow
1982 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, Fellow
1983 Eringen Medal, Society of Engineering Science
1983 American Academy of Mechanics, Fellow
1986 Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award, University of Wisconsin
1986 Honorary Doctorate, Colorado School of Mines
1987 Corcoran Award, American Society for Engineering Education
1987 National Medal of Science
1989 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1989 Hilldale Award, University of Wisconsin
1989 LAS Achievement Award, University of Illinois
1991 Institute Lecturer Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1993 Centennial Medallion, American Society for Engineering Education
1993 Honorary Doctorate, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology
1994 Centennial Medallion, College of Engineering, University of Maryland
1994 Corcoran Award, American Society for Engineering Education
1994 Honorary Doctorate, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich
1996 Honorary Doctorate, Kyoto University, Japan
1997 Distinguished Alumni Award, Chemical Engineering Department, University of Maryland
1998 Engineering Innovation Hall of Fame Award, College of Engineering, University of Maryland

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Life 1

Frequent relocation due to father's career as a professor of civil engineering. Interest in music. High school in Washington, DC. Interest in foreign languages.

College, the Army, Graduate School 3

Two years at University of Maryland. Major in chemical engineering. ROTC. Army service during World War II. Finishing bachelor's degree at University of Illinois. Decision to pursue Ph.D. in chemistry. Ph.D. at University of Wisconsin. Fulbright grant. Studying in Amsterdam.

Teaching Career 11

Position at Cornell University in chemistry department. Summer employment at DuPont. Study of rheology. Position at University of Wisconsin, Madison, in chemical engineering department. Introduction of transport phenomena curriculum. Production of textbooks. Chairing department during Vietnam War.

Foreign Languages Career 32

Collaboration on Dutch literature readers. Position as visiting Fulbright professor in Japan. Collaboration on manuals for learning technical Japanese.

Conclusion 33

Music and composing. Reminiscences about meaningful awards. Post retirement teaching. Thoughts on changes in chemical engineering. Canoeing and hiking in Wisconsin and Canada.

Notes 48

Index 50

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

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