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05-09-2004

Renowned Chemical Engineer Howard Brenner Awarded Clarkson Honorary Degree

[A JPEG image of Brenner receiving his degree is available via overnight delivery, e-mail and at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/brennerhd.jpg]

Potsdam, N.Y. — Massachusetts Institute of Technology W. H. Dow Professor Howard Brenner received an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University's 111th Commencement on Sunday, May 9.

The degree was awarded for "his outstanding intellectual achievements during a distinguished half-century career as a chemical engineering academic, and for his boldness in questioning the most basic assumptions of continuum fluid mechanics."brennerhd

Addressing the more than 500 graduates, Brenner explained that as a first-generation college graduate, it was a particular honor to receive this recognition. "I came from humble origins. My father went to school only to the 8th grade, my mother to the first grade."

I am a theoretician in the field of fluid mechanics, Brenner said. "And I was fortunate to come to this early in my life. In high school, I had a difficult time in geometry, perhaps like many of you. But I had a wonderful teacher, Mr. Woods, who did a theorem proving that the interior angles of a triangle added up to 180 degrees. This was a purely theoretical exercise, one that I had never thought about before. It was hard to believe that you could use your own mind to predict something and then go into the world or the laboratory and measure it. I had a protractor because I was taking a course in mechanical engineering. After class I drew some triangles and they added up to 180 degrees and I was amazed. And I have been amazed ever since."

In September of next year, Brenner, will begin his 50th year as a faculty member in Chemical Engineering. His research and educational activities have been honored by numerous awards from professional societies, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society, and the American Society of Engineering Education. Most recently, he received the "Fluid Dynamics Prize" of the American Physical Society. He is one of a small group of scientists and engineers elected not only to both the National Academies of Science and Engineering, but also to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Brenner's theoretical skills and interests focus on the physical and mathematical principles underlying the flow of fluids, including the scientific laws governing the transport of momentum, energy, and chemical species through liquids and gases. Most recently, his work has questioned the very foundations of these subjects, dating back 250 years to Leonhard Euler, the "father" of fluid mechanics. Brenner's current foundational effort impacts on the validity of the celebrated Navier-Stokes equations, universally regarded as sacrosanct since 1845 as mathematically quantifying the flow of viscous fluids. Brenner says he awaits the verdict of his skeptical peers with bemused (although not detached) interest.

Brenner's other work is largely summarized and embodied in three novel monographs-cum-textbooks in his field. A fourth book is underway, tentatively titled Fluid Mechanics Revisited, which reflects his current questioning of the foundations of his discipline.

Brenner was born, raised and educated in New York City, receiving degrees from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and New York University in the Bronx.

Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York, is an independent university with a reputation for developing innovative leaders. Its academically rigorous, collaborative culture involves 2,700 undergraduates and 350 graduate students in hands-on team projects, multidisciplinary research, and real-world challenges. Many faculty members achieve international recognition for their scholarship and research, and teaching is a priority at every level. For more information, visit http://www.clarkson.edu.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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