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Robert A. Frosch earned a BA from Columbia College in 1947, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Columbia University in 1952.
Beginning in 1951 at Hudson Laboratories of Columbia University, he studied environmental variables that affect very long range sound propagation in the ocean. In 1956, he was appointed Director of Hudson Laboratories. In 1963, he was appointed Director for Nuclear Test Detection in the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). He led the design and building of the computer controlled Large Aperture Seismic Array (LASA). In 1965, he was appointed Deputy Director of ARPA. In 1966, Dr. Frosch was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research and Development). He led Navy R&D programs including the Aegis anti-air system, new submarine and anti-submarine systems, and early 'smart' weapons and systems.
In 1973, he became the first Assistant Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). He was the senior secretariat member for the first International Conference on Pollution of the Mediterranean. In 1975, he became Associate Director for Applied Oceanography at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
In 1977, Dr. Frosch became Administrator of NASA, in which position he served until 1981. During this period, the first space shuttle was built and ground-tested, and spacecraft projects were begun to investigate Venus with radar imaging, and the universe with x-rays and gamma rays.
In 1981, Dr. Frosch became the first President of the American Association of Engineering Societies AAES). In 1982, he became Vice President of the General Motors Corporation (GM) in charge of Research Laboratories. In 1993, he retired from GM and joined the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
While at GM, and subsequently in work with the NAE, Dr. Frosch led the development of industrial ecology: systematic study of material circulation in the industrial system, and improvements in industrial efficiency and environmental cleanliness.
Dr. Frosch is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Foreign Member of the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK). He is a fellow or member of a number of engineering and scientific societies. He has been awarded the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the IEEE Founder's Medal. He has served as President of Sigma Xi, and is an Honorary Member of Eta Kappa Nu.