National Academy of Engineering recognizes research, leadership
By Rich Barlow, BU Today
Before he was an accomplished university president, with even dour bond raters applauding his helmsmanship of BU, Robert A. Brown was an accomplished chemical engineer. His research involved mathematical models that helped produce materials from polymer plastics to the silicon ingredients in microelectronic devices.
Both careers have earned BU’s top executive and professor of electrical engineering and computer science an award from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
Brown received the NAE’s Simon Ramo Founders Award Sunday in Washington, D.C. The award confers a commemorative medal on recipients whose achievements better society.
“I am very honored by this award,” says Brown. The award recognizes his leadership at BU and MIT, where he was provost before becoming president of Boston University in 2005. “I am proudest of my influence on the direction of Boston University and our progress, as we have seen very rapid emergence as a major private research university,” Brown says. “In this sense, the award is shared by the entire Boston University community, as they have embraced and led the significant advances we have made in education and research.”
Brown, an NAE member since 1991, “has exemplified the ideals of the NAE,” says C. D. Mote, Jr., NAE president. “His contributions in chemical engineering research, service to the profession, and his academic leadership are stellar. He is the personification of the Simon Ramo Founders Award.”
Among Brown’s accomplishments, the NAE cited his launch of the University’s strategic plan, drawing “world-class faculty members,” and support for research.
It also applauded his pre-administration life as a scholar. “The underpinning of almost all my research was to use applied mathematics and advanced numerical simulation to explore models of very complex processes,” Brown says. He notes that he is best known for two applications of his work. One is the simulation of viscoelastic liquid flows (“these are liquids composed of very large molecules, such as molten plastics and polymeric coating solutions”). The other is simulating the growth of semiconductor crystals, such as silicon, from the melt.
He attributes his induction into the NAE at the unusually young age of 40, and his 1999 induction into the National Academy of Sciences, to this research.
Before BU, Texas-born Brown spent 25 years at MIT. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at the University of Texas and a PhD at the University of Minnesota. He was one of two scholars to receive an award from the NAE this year. Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford University professor, was given the Arthur M. Bueche Award.