R. Byron Bird

Born: February 5, 1924 | Bryan, TX, US

R. Byron Bird was born in Texas, but 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 US 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 US 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 PhD 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. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0173
No. of pages: 54
Minutes: 129

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
1 October 1998
Madison, Wisconsin

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 US 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 PhD 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

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1947 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BS Chemical Engineering
1950 University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Amsterdam

1950 to 1951
Post Doctoral Fellow

University of Wisconsin, Madison

1950 to 1951
Project Associate in Chemistry
1953 to 1955
Project Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering
1955 to 1957
Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1957 to 1992
Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1964 to 1968
Chairman, Department of Chemical Engineering
1968 to 1972
Burgess Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1972 to 1992
Vilas Research Professor
1982 to 1992
John D. MacArthur Professor
1995 to 1999
Professor Emeritus

Cornell University

1951 to 1952
Assistant Professor of Chemistry

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1952
Research Chemist

Technische Universiteit Delft

1958
Fulbright Lecturer and Guggenheim Fellow
1994
J.M. Burgers Professor

Kyoto University

1962 to 1963
Fulbright Professor

Université Catholique de Louvain

1994
Visiting Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
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

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 PhD in chemistry. PhD 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 PhD 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.