Memorial Tributes: Volume 26
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  • RONALD F. PROBSTEIN (1928-2021)



    RONALD F. PROBSTEIN, a world-renowned expert in fluid mechanics, died on September 19, 2021, at the age of 93.

    Ronald, also known to some as Ron or Ronnie, was born March 11, 1928, in New York City to Sally Rosenstein and “Honest” Sid Probstein. He spent his youth in Hell’s Kitchen. In July of 1950, Ronald married Irene Weindling, and 18 years later, they welcomed their son Sidney Charles home.

    Probstein worked for mathematician Richard Courant (NAS 1955) while studying at night for his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at New York University. After receiving his master’s degree and PhD in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University, he joined the faculty at Brown University as assistant professor of engineering and applied mathematics in 1954. Two years later, he was given tenure, becoming the youngest person to have been awarded tenure by the university. Eight years later, he joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he spent the remainder of his career.

    Many of Ronald Probstein’s research contributions had an impact in the field of aeronautics. His work in fluid dynamics informed early spacecraft design and deepened the understanding of the physics behind ballistic missile reentry. Alongside Wallace Hayes (NAE 1975), Probstein co-authored the book Hypersonic Inviscid Flow (Dover Publications, 2004), which is recognized as a seminal work in the field of hypersonic flight. His interest in aerodynamics extended beyond manufactured objects to celestial objects. He proposed a theory on the behavior and shape of the tails of dust that trail behind comets. In the 1990s, Probstein patented a method for removing toxic contaminants from soil — a process known as electrokinetic soil remediation.

    Throughout his career, Probstein was awarded many prestigious honors and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1989, he was appointed Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, in addition to being a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences (elected in 1999). In 1997, he received an honorary doctor of science degree from his former employer, Brown University. One year later, the R.F. Probstein Lecture Series in Engineering Science was established at MIT.

    Probstein also wrote 11 books and over 125 research articles. Physicochemical Hydrodynamics: An Introduction (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1984; 2nd ed, Wiley, 1994) was selected as a Best Engineering Book by the Association of American Publishers. More recently, he wrote a nonresearch-related book about his father, “Honest” Sid Probstein, entitled Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man (iUniverse, 2009).

    When not writing, Ronald was a passionate skier and traveler who enjoyed summering in Truro, Massachusetts.

    Probstein is survived by his beloved wife Irene (née Weindling), his son Sid, and his three grandchildren.