National Academy of Engineering Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10
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Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10

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             MELVIN L.BARON                                            15
                             MELVIN L.BARON
                                 BY JEREMY ISENBERG
                MELVIN L.BARON, who died on March 5, 1997, at the age of seventy,
            was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 1978 “for
            contributions in structural mechanics, particularly in the fields of numerical
            analysis, ground shock and response of buried structures.” He was widely
            recognized for his work in shock and vibration of immersed shells with
            application to ship and submarine design, as well as for original contributions to
            the design of blast-resistant “superhard” protective structures. Through his
            associations with Weidlinger Associates and Columbia University, he enjoyed a
            standing in both academic and consulting communities that was nearly unique in
            its time.
                Mel Baron was fortunate to enter New York City College soon after World
            War II, when it was a major intellectual center, attracting students of the highest
            caliber to seek opportunity through free education. His intelligence and ambition
            brought him as a graduate student to Columbia University, then the nation’s most
            prominent center for engineering mechanics, with a faculty that included Ray
            Mindlin, Hans Bleich, Fred Freudenthal, and Mario Salvadori, all of whom
            became members of the NAE. Mel’s work with Bleich led to the first of many
            prizes, the Spirit of St. Louis Junior Award of the American Society of
            Mechanical Engineers (ASME). This was soon followed by the J.James Croes
            Medal and Walter L.Huber Research Prize of
             MELVIN L.BARON                                            16
             the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He was later the recipient of
             the Nathan M.Newmark Medal and Arthur M. Wellington Award, also of ASCE,
             and served as the ASCE delegate to the U.S. National Committee on Theoretical
             and Applied Mechanics. He was also an elected fellow of ASME. Collaboration
             with Mario Salvadori on Numerical Methods in Engineering, an early classic
            textbook published in 1952, led to Mel’s acquaintance with Paul Weidlinger,
            another future member of NAE, who had recently established a structural
            engineering consulting practice in New York. While a partner at Weidlinger
            Associates, Mel maintained connections with Columbia University, serving as
            adjunct professor and adviser. He received the Thomas Egelston Medal of the
            university’s School of Engineering in 1983. He taught courses in integral
            transforms and complex variables there for more than thirty years.
                Mel’s partnership with Weidlinger lasted for forty-five years, until his
            death. As partner and board chairman of Weidlinger Associates, he established an
            applied mechanics group that, like himself, contributed academic research in
            applied mechanics and consulting services to a wide range of government
            agencies and civilian clients. He and his group were pioneers in applying
            numerical methods to simulate wave propagation effects from explosions.
            Throughout the Cold War era, he brought a high intellectual standard to the
            design and shock qualification of nuclear submarines and surface ships and to the
            design and testing of missile silos and antiballistic missile systems. He was
            frequently sought by colleagues and peers for advice and counsel on technical and
            policy matters both for his knowledge and for his unerring judgment. Of his many
            awards and honors, he was perhaps most gratified by the Department of Defense
            Exceptional Public Service Medal and Lifetime Achievement Award of the
            Defense Nuclear Agency. The citation for the latter award reads: “Dr. Baron,
            perhaps more than any other scientist, advocated experiments as the acid test of
            the theory of explosive effects (on structures)…. He has played a prime role in
            shaping research programs addressing constitutive modeling of geologic
            materials, structure-media interaction, finite element modeling and the design and
            response of land and sea-based structures to
             MELVIN L.BARON                                            17
             weapons effects. Dr. Baron’s singularly distinctive lifetime achievements reflect
             immense credit upon himself.”
                While a graduate student at Columbia University, Mel married Muriel
            Wicker who, until her death in 1993, was his constant companion and adviser. A
            graduate of Hunter College in biology, Muriel devoted herself to raising the
            couple’s two daughters, Jaclyn and Susan, both of whom have engineering-based
            careers. Muriel was admired by Mel’s friends for answering her husband’s
             passion for work, stamp collecting, and paddleball with humor and untiring
             support. Mel treated his family to a wide variety of entertainment and culture
             through the years by sharing with them his enthusiasm for attending the theatre,
             ballet, and an occasional opera. Mel developed lasting friendships among those
             who shared in the many spheres of his life, including his neighbors in Riverdale,
             New York, where he lived for over thirty-five years; his paddleball partners; his
             colleagues and students at Columbia University; fellow fans of Columbia Lions
             and New York Giants football teams; and fellow stamp collectors. He had great
             love for dogs and, later in his life, for cats; he was particularly attached to
             Monroe, a large, tuxedo male cat who shared with his owner a good-natured
             tolerance and very social personality. In addition to two daughters and three
             grandchildren, he is survived by his second wife, Ruth.
                Mel will be remembered by generations of Columbia students and scores of
             Weidlinger Associates’ employees and numerous professional colleagues for the
             generous and caring spirit with which he nurtured their careers.
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