Howard Brenner, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, passes away at 84

Fluid dynamics researcher profoundly influenced his field

Howard Brenner, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, died on Feb. 17. He was 84.

Brenner’s extraordinary and accomplished academic career spanned more than 60 years. Considered one of the world’s foremost theoreticians in the transport properties of flowing suspensions and multiphase systems, he had a profound impact on the profession through his broad and fundamental research on low Reynolds number fluid-particle hydrodynamics, microfluidics, complex fluids, interfacial transport processes and emulsion rheology, multiphase flow and transport processes in porous media, generalized Taylor dispersion phenomena, and macro transport processes.

Brenner coauthored three textbooks. “Low Reynolds Number Hydrodynamics,” written with John Happel in 1965, is one of the most widely cited books in fluid mechanics worldwide. “Interfacial Transport Processes and Rheology,” coauthored with David A. Edwards and Darsh T. Wasan in 1991, covers interfacial phenomena. “Macrotransport Processes,” coauthored with David A. Edwards in 1993, covers multiple length- and time-scale homogenization schemes. During his career, Brenner singly and jointly published more than 200 technical papers and 35 chapters in books, monographs, and proceedings volumes, and presented more than 500 invited seminars and professional lectures.

Brenner also directed the research of a large number of PhD students, master’s students, and postdoctoral fellows in the general areas of fluid mechanics and transport processes. These former students now hold or have held academic appointments in a variety of fields, including chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, civil engineering, engineering mechanics, and physical chemistry.

Raised and educated entirely in New York City and environs, Brenner graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1946, where he took its “chemical course.” Prior to attending college, he worked for almost a year for a chemical consulting firm in lower Manhattan. Brenner received his undergraduate degree from Pratt Institute (1950), and his master’s (1954) and ScD (1957) from New York University (NYU), both in chemical engineering. He went on to serve on the chemical engineering faculties of NYU (1955-1966); Carnegie Mellon (1966-1977); the University of Rochester (1977-1981), where he was department chair; and MIT (1981-2005), where he was the Willard Henry Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Brenner was an enthusiastic researcher whose lifetime work did not end with his retirement. Until three days before his death, despite tremendous physical challenges, he was making the final revisions on a paper that reflected the culmination of almost 10 years’ work, much of it done after he became emeritus. Of this project, he said that he could always continue to find needed revisions, but, in essence, was done with what he believed to be a seminal piece that overturned a theoretical underpinning of fluid dynamics several hundred years old.

In the special issue of Chemical Engineering Communications honoring Brenner’s 80th birthday in 2009, his former students recounted: “H.B. held everyone to high standards, especially himself, and he was never shy in getting into very deep discussions of the most recent or subtle concepts he was working on (usually, the two went hand in hand). Such discussions were not a rare event; indeed, we can distinctly remember the knock on the door each afternoon that announced his arrival to the students' office. With a smile on his face, H.B. would enter the room, take a chair at the center, and launch into an in-depth discussion of the latest theories under development. These frequent and informal scientific discussions were the epitome of academic endeavor and left an indelible impression on everyone who had the opportunity to work with him.”

Brenner took great pleasure in encouraging his students to pursue the pure sciences in their career paths, believing that to be engaged in a world of ideas was a gift they might be as lucky as he to experience.

Brenner was recognized by numerous honors and awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Mechanics, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

An elected fellow to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Brenner received all three major society awards from that organization, each representing a different category of accomplishment: the Alpha Chi Sigma Award (1976) for "outstanding accomplishments in fundamental chemical engineering research"; the William H. Walker Award (1985) for "outstanding contributions to the chemical engineering literature"; and the Warren K. Lewis Award (1999) for "distinguished and continuing contributions to chemical engineering education.”

Other awards include the 2001 Fluid Dynamics Prize from the Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society, for “his outstanding and sustained research in physico-chemical hydrodynamics, the quality of his monographs and textbooks, and his long-standing service to the fluid mechanics community.” Additionally, he earned the 1995 General Electric Senior Research Gold Medal Award of the American Society for Engineering Education, the 1980 Bingham Medal of the Society of Rheology, and the 1988 American Chemical Society Award in Colloid or Surface Chemistry, as well as the ACS’s 11th Annual Honor Scroll in 1961.

During a symposium to honor his 70th birthday in 1999, Brenner said, “Coming from a family of more short-lived ancestors [his mother died in her late 60s and his father in his early 70s], I will settle for seeing my colleagues at an 80th birthday celebration.”

He lived to be productive for many years beyond his 70th birthday, passing away just a month shy of his 85th birthday.

Brenner is survived by his wife, Lisa Glucksman; his second wife, Simone; his first wife, Lorraine, and their three children, Leslie, Joyce, and Suzanne; his seven grandchildren, Margo, Alex, Daniel, Julia, Kiera, Max, and Miles; and his sister, Renee Brenner Gould. He was a devoted father and grandfather, offering frequent words of encouragement and advice.

The family has requested that gifts be directed to the MIT Chemical Engineering Department (3854800), in memory of Howard Brenner. Those wishing to send checks can mail them to MIT ASO c/o Teri Quill, 8-328, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge MA 02139.


Oct. 29, 2014: Private Dedication of the Howard Brenner Studio at the pre-opening of David Edwards’s LeLab Cambridge. For more information, contact Melanie Kaufman at

Nov. 16, 2014: Memorial Session in Honor of Howard Brenner. This session at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting in Atlanta pays tribute to Brenner as scholar, teacher, and great friend. MIT will also sponsor a memorial reception later that evening. For more information, visit:

Nov. 24, 2014: Symposium Honoring the Memory of Professor Howard Brenner. At the annual American Physical Society meeting in San Francisco, former students and colleagues will speak on how Brenner's theoretical contributions have had, and long will have, strong and direct impact on the understanding of transport processes occurring in biological systems. For more information, visit:

Topics: Chemistry and chemical engineering, Memorial services, Obituaries


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