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Interview of Robert Byron Bird by A. Jeffrey Giacomin on 2016 May 23,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/42771-2
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In this interview R. Byron Bird discusses topics such as: his work in rheology and the history of the Rheology Research Center at the University of Wisconsin; his educational background in chemical engineering; polymer rheology; Joe Hirschfelder; his work at DuPont; John Tordella; University of Wisconsin, Madison; John Ferry; going as a lecturer to Kyoto University and Nagoya University; Society of Rheology; Arthur Lodge; Japanese Society of Rheology; Harold R. Warner; D. C. Evans; Ole Hassager; Chuck Curtiss; John Schrag; the writing of his two volume set; how foreign languages have been a part of his life.
I want to begin this second session by saying that my name is Alan Jeffrey Giacomin, and I am conducting this oral history on behalf of The Society of Rheology and the American Institute of Physics, who will archive it at the Niels Bohr Center. Now the physical location of this second session is Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin on a bright, sunny day, and specifically it is Monday, May 23rd. The local time is 11:40.
So Bob, our first topic of discussion is I want to return to the subject of the two-volume set that you published. First edition was published in 1977, and the second edition ten years later in 1987. What provoked the writing of the second edition?
I think it was the fact that quite a few additional materials had become available, and also the fact that the bulk of rheology people did not want to use the corotational approach that we had used in volumes 1 and 2 of the first edition. Almost everybody had adopted the code-formational formalisms, which were in agreement with the early work of Oldroyd as well as the book on elastic liquids by Arthur Lodge. So in the second edition, we decided to switch over to the point of view that seemed to be more popular with everybody. So we did that, and we took out everything that we had in the first edition on the corotational formalism. I think this was a big mistake. We should have kept the material on the corotational and perhaps added some material on the code-formational point of view. As you well know from our own work summarizing the simple equations, simple constitutive equations, the co-rotational models are by far the best. Also, the corotational formalism. I think this was a formalism is a lot easier to explain and present to students. So I think that pretty well summarizes it.
Were you still teaching at the time the first edition was written?
How about the second edition? Were you —
I was still teaching because the second edition came out in ’87, and I didn't retire until 1992.
So you actually taught from both editions.
And you taught courses from both volumes of both editions.
Yes. That’s correct.
If you were to write a third edition, have you given any thought to how you might go about that?
[Laughs] I think I would be inclined to put all the emphasis on the corotational formalism because by and large it’s easier to explain and easier to present. I think the big reason for going over to the code-formational method was that the integral models were easier to handle in the code-formational form, and there were a number of popular models at that time that were done in the code-formational form.
Before you wrote the 1977 edition, the first edition, what were the best textbooks from which one might teach the corotational approach?
There were no textbooks available at that time on the co-rotational approach that I know of.
Is there anything else that I should ask about the two-volume set?
[Laughs] I don't think so.
There’s one detail I would like to ask about the second volume of the second edition, which introduces an interesting difference in the Curtiss-Bird model which involves a quantity called epsilon prime. I think the second volume is the origin of that.
That’s correct. It was not published anywhere else.
It wasn’t published anywhere else. Okay. Now there was a second subject. To move onto the second subject that we wanted to treat today, yesterday when we discussed the history of the Rheology Research Center, we finished a little early because we didn’t talk about the time after I arrived at the Rheology Research Center. So I think you might want to continue with your history of the RRC.
Well, I think the big thing was that after you took over as chairman of the RRC, you sought external funds so that we would be able to invite speakers from other universities and also from industry. That was something we had been unable to do before. One of the organizations you contacted was the Placon Corporation, I believe.
That’s right. We had their support for many years. In fact, their —
Yes. Where were they located?
They were located in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, which is a suburb on the south side of Madison, I believe.
Yes. That’s correct.
Now their chairman of the board was Tom Mohs, and after the Placon Corporation stopped funding it, the center funding continued from Tom Mohs personally.
Tom Mohs was an inventor of something called a clamshell packaging. He was an important person in the plastics processing industry, not just by virtue of that invention, but by virtue of his founding of the Placon Corporation.
And as you know, he passed away just a few weeks ago.
Now was there anything else we wanted to cover today?
Well, we wanted to mention the fact that after we had had the series of RRC seminars on the Doi-Edwards model, or the Doi-Edwards theory, that we finally ended up inviting Doi to spend two months in the summer in Madison. During that time, he gave a series of seminars in which he attempted to sell us on various ideas that were incorporated into the Doi-Edwards theory, namely the role of slip-links and the role of tubes, which we had not completely been able to understand. So that was very helpful, I think, in giving us a more complete picture of the way the Doi and Edwards team developed their theory.
Let’s see. The other thing we wanted to mention was that Hans Christian Öttinger was also invited to the RRC as a post-doctoral student, and later he would become a professor at the ETH in Zürich and a successor to Professor Joachim Meissner at the ETH. So those were several points that we had not mentioned earlier.
Now another thing we had not mentioned was my early connection with Janeschitz-Kriegl. In 1958, I went to Delft to give a series of lectures on transport phenomena (in Dutch). That was before our book was published, and the reason I was interested in going to Delft was the fact that Hans Kramers, who was the head of the Laboratory of Physical Technology, was the first European to organize a course on transport phenomena for engineers. I think this fact is not very well known, but I found Hans to be a very stimulating person and I enjoyed hearing his ideas about presentation of the subject of transport phenomena. So that was a very, very useful period for me.
At that time, I got to know Professor Janeschitz-Kriegl, because he was at one of the institutes in Delft, and he led me around through his laboratory. Then of course later he came to Madison as a visitor. At one point we talked about our experiences during World War II, and it turned out that when we compared notes, toward the very end of the War, perhaps in April of 1945, we were probably not too far from each other, but on opposite sides of the conflict. We talked about that again when I visited Janeschitz when he became a professor in Austria. It was a very emotional discussion.
You remember when he visited Madison with his wife Trudy?
They practiced and then performed musical entertainment for us at our house one evening with Arthur Lodge at the piano.
Oh, yes. That’s right. [Laughs] Yes. I might just mention that they are both still very active in musical organizations in Austria. I hear from them occasionally.
Hermann and Trudy, you mean.
Now there’s another theme, another completely different theme I would like to explore because foreign languages have played an important role in your life. I guess I’d like to start by asking how that happened. When did you first get interested in studying foreign languages?
Probably about the time I was six or seven years old. My parents, in the living room, had their high school and college textbooks on various foreign languages — Well, my mother had French and Latin, and my dad had German and Latin, and then he had also studied some Spanish. So here were these books in the front room, and I would bring them to my parents and I’d say, “I can't read this. Why?” [Chuckles] And of course they would explain, “Well, that’s French” or “That’s Latin,” or “That’s German.” So I got very curious to how this works. So that’s how I got very fascinated with the concept that there were people in other countries who did not speak English.
Were both of your parents multilingual?
Well, they were only multilingual in the sense that they had studied these languages. They didn't speak them anymore.
Now in later life, as you explained yesterday, you engaged in self-study of foreign languages. I remember yesterday in the first session you told a story about teaching yourself German on the bus.
But as part of your scholarly career, you have maintained a continuous thread of study of foreign languages.
Yes. As a matter of fact, in 1994, I returned to Delft and gave another series of lectures — on kinetic theory of polymers (in Dutch) for the mechanical engineering department. Then in the following spring, I gave lectures at Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium, and became acquainted with the group working with Professor Marcel Crochet. I also had the chance to visit the Universiteit Leuven on the north side of the language border and renew my acquaintances with the group there.
I see that you have published some books about foreign languages, so let’s get one of the questions I know that you would like to address on the record. Some people say that you have published a Japanese-English dictionary.
That’s not correct. I have collaborated with Ed Daub, who was a foreign missionary in Japan, and the two of us have published, together with a Japanese colleague, Nobue Inoue several books on translating technical Japanese. So our publications had to do only with the technical vocabulary and technical grammar.
I think the last of those publications with Daub connects us with rheology in the sense that that last book is about vocabulary for polymer science.
No, that was not done with Ed Daub. That was done with one of Harmon Ray’s graduate students, Sigmund Floyd who had lived in Japan and had all his high school and university training up through the bachelor’s degree in Japanese. He was completely fluent. So I got him to help me with the part on polymers. Then my very last book on technical Japanese was a little book called Ichi, Ni, San (which means 1, 2, 3.): Adventures with Japanese Numbers.” This book tells about all the ways in which number are used in Japanese, and which seem strange to Europeans and Americans. I did that together with Reiji Mezaki, and Reiji was the first student to come to our department after World War II from Japan. At that time, there was still quite a bit of anti-Japanese feeling, and I think he felt very isolated. But I befriended him and we became extremely good friends. That friendship lasted throughout our entire career. I often helped him when he needed help with translating something into English, and he helped me when I needed to translate something into Japanese.
Do you feel that your life as a rheologist was enriched by your study of foreign languages?
To some extent, yes. But it’s hard to put your finger exactly on the way in which the enhancement has taken place.
At one time in university, and in your university in particular, the study of a foreign language was a requirement for a Ph.D.
That’s correct. Most university graduate programs required a reading knowledge of French and German. In addition, they required several years of foreign language for admission to the undergraduate programs.
But not for a master’s degree, I don’t think.
And I think today that requirement has been dropped altogether.
That’s correct. There is no foreign language requirement anymore.
What do you think of that?
I think that was a very bad decision. After all, almost every company has some attachment overseas in various countries. There are also many opportunities for educational exchange, and there are articles that need to be translated from other languages, and there are conferences in a wide variety of countries. If you don’t know some foreign language, you’re really not able to function completely in the world scene.
Some people will argue that the whole world of science and engineering is headed towards English, or is perhaps already conducted in English, and that's why these requirements should be dropped.
I think that’s a very poor argument.
Now I’m interested in the order in which you studied Asian languages, specifically languages that involve characters like Chinese characters, for instance. I know you’ve studied both Chinese and Japanese. Which came first?
I studied Japanese for many years before I started the study of Chinese. Chinese is roughly three times easier than Japanese. I won't go into the details on that.
But I thought your study of Chinese began during wartime.
That’s true, because after the War ended in Europe, we were sent back to the United States to retrain to go to the Orient. At that time, I did start to study Chinese, but I didn’t have very good books for that. I don’t think they existed.
But that was before you took an interest in Japanese, right?
That’s correct, yeah.
I think that study of Chinese, you once told me, was a very helpful step towards your Japanese studies.
Well, slightly, but not very much. After all we returned to the U. S. in June, and WWII ended in August; so I had studied Chinese for only several months.
I see. Now yesterday we talked about your experiences at the DuPont Research Company in Wilmington. I think you called it the Experimental Station.
You said that you were asked to work on a problem of viscous heating in tube flow.
Now of course at that time, that was long before you had written the book Transport Phenomena, so in those days, when a chemical engineer needed to solve a problem like that, what book did they go to?
Well, they could have gone to a variety of books on fluid mechanics that were readily available.
But in fact, the plastics engineers at DuPont were not using that, right, for…?
Well, they were trying to… They worked on some empirical method of deciding what the viscous heating was. It wasn’t very good.