Robert Byron Bird

Robert Byron Bird took a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and then performed his doctoral studies on Intermolecular Forces and the Virial Equation of State in Physical Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the supervision of J.O. Hirschfelder where he also completed postdoctoral work which included his co-authorship of a book which was the bible for much of my early research career.  Indeed, it is fair to say that it is his involvement in this book and the field it encompassed as well as his active contributions to kinetic theory and transport properties of fluids that convinced me that if a chemical engineer could contribute so profoundly to the field of chemical physics, then a physicist too could have a place within the broad spectrum that is the chemical engineering discipline. Thus, when offered a post in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, I was eager to accept.   

Of course, Byron Bird had a wide range of interests including polymeric fluids but it was a second seminal book of his, Transport Phenomena, with co-authors W.E. Stewart and E.N. Lightfoot that provided me with a second inspiration. Not only because of the exposition it offered of the field of transport phenomena, but also because it showed me more generally how you could make difficult concepts accessible.

As a final point, I should note that Byron Bird was still publishing in his nineties; a feat I am unlikely to emulate despite the inspiration.

Robert Byron Bird. Image kindly supplied by the University of Wisconsin-Madison

This story has been contributed by Past President Sir William Wakeham