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Ronald F. Probstein

Ronald F. Probstein (born March 11, 1928) is the Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He played a principal role in spacecraft and ballistic missile reentry physics and design, hypersonic flight theory, comet behavior, desalination and synthetic fuels.

Ronald F. Probstein
Born March 11, 1928
New York City
Education New York University
Princeton University
Engineering career
Discipline Mechanical Engineering
Employer(s) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Awards Academy of Engineering



Probstein was born in New York City. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School and went on to study engineering at New York City’s night school, while at the same time working during the day for the world-renowned mathematician Richard Courant. In 1952 he received the first Ph.D. from the Princeton University Department of Aeronautical Engineering. In 1954 he accepted a joint appointment at Brown University in the Division of Applied Mathematics and Division of Engineering and was given tenure two years later. He accepted a position as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT in 1962 and remained there becoming Ford Professor of Engineering until his retirement in 1996 when he became Emeritus.

Together with Wallace D. Hayes he wrote a book in 1959 on Hypersonic Flow Theory which remains the principal source of basic information on the subject. He applied and generalized these theoretical developments to the design of early American spacecraft and ballistic missiles to enable their reentry into the earth’s atmosphere without destruction from the high temperatures generated by their hypersonic speeds.

In the late 1960s he developed a theory that predicted the appearance of the fan-shaped tails that appear behind dusty comets.

In the early 1970s he turned his attention to the desalination of salt water and purification of contaminated water.

In 1982 he co-authored Synthetic Fuels as a unified and coherent subject. It is the first and still the only[citation needed] book providing the underlying principles and possible means for producing fuels to replace natural ones.

In the 1990s he introduced the concept of electrokinetic soil remediation. His basic procedure was patented and licensed to an industrial firm for further development and today the subject has become one that is widely studied and applied worldwide. The scientific basis is outlined in his book on Physicochemical Hydrodynamics, which is a discipline concerned with the interaction between fluid flow and physical, chemical, and biochemical processes.

In 2009 he wrote his first book for a general audience - Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man, published by iUniverse. The book follows the adventures of his father in the world of bookies and bettors, fighters and fixers, set against the often-romanticized backdrop of Depression-era New York City.

He has been honored by election to the United States National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Academy of Astronautics, and awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown University. He has received many awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship. He recently served on the Committee on America’s Energy Future of the United States National Research Council.



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