2001 Distinguished Service Award: Robert Armstrong

// Chemical & Biological Engineering

Tags: alumni, CBE E-Day, Engineers' Day, Robert Armstrong

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Robert C. Armstrong
Chevron Professor & Department Head
Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhDChE ’73

As graduate students at UW-Madison, Robert C. Armstrong and his wife, Debbie, loved the winter walk to school: The couple lived in Eagle Heights; the campus was only a short jaunt across the frozen Lake Mendota.

“We grew up in Baton Rouge,” said Armstrong. “If you could walk on water in Louisiana, you were something special.”

Since receiving his PhD in 1973, Armstrong has become a leader in the fields of fluid dynamics, kinetic theory, and rheology of polymeric liquids. The Chevron Professor and chemical engineering department head, Armstrong has spent 28 years advancing education and research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Armstrong received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1970. He completed his graduate work at UW-Madison two years and nine months later and joined MIT’s chemical engineering faculty shortly thereafter.

His 30 years of research into understanding mechanics of non-Newtonian fluids led to improvements in the manufacturing of plastics and polymers like those found in synthetic fibers, soda bottles and film. He pioneered using laser-Doppler and flow-visualization methods to map stability diagrams, ultimately to increase manufacturing productivity.

Armstrong is a co-author of the two-volume treatise Dynamics of Polymeric Liquids, which was named as a “Citation Classic” by the Institute for Scientific Information in 1988 for the large number of citations it received in scientific and engineering journals.

He served two years as president of the Society of Rheology and serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Rheology. Armstrong has received many invitations to present lectures on rheology, polymer processing and a variety of engineering education topics.

While Armstrong visits Madison often on business, this is Debbie’s first trip back since graduation. Debbie received a masters of science in social work from UW-Madison and now is a psychotherapist in private practice. They are avid Boston Red Sox fans. They have two sons, David, 24, an Internet marketing businessman, and Eric, 21. Eric is a senior English major at Lafayette College; this summer he is screening movie scripts for a film company in Los Angeles, a profession he would like to pursue.