Photo of Robert B. Bird

Robert B. Bird

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his profoundly influential books and research on kinetic theory, transport phenomena, the behavior of polymeric fluids, and foreign language study for engineers and scientists.

When Robert Byron Bird was preparing a curriculum for his chemical engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1950s, he realized there wasn’t an available textbook on transport phenomena. So he set about writing one himself.

Transport Phenomena, written along with Ed Lightfoot and Warren Stewart, was published in 1960 and became the seminal textbook in the field, which studies the exchange of mass, energy and momentum.

Born in Texas, Bird’s father was an engineer. The younger Bird had a passion for science and languages in high school, but his father steered him to engineering. Bird went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1950.

In addition to his research and teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Bird, who had studied in the Netherlands on a Fulbright grant, collaborated on books about Dutch literature. On another Fulbright grant, Bird spent time in Japan, where he realized the need to understand technical Japanese and thus wrote a guide to it.

Bird is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences among other groups.

By Robert Warren