Richard E. Barlow

January 12, 1931

Brief Biography

Richard E. Barlow is a pioneer in the mathematics of reliability, which deals with the probability that a component or system will perform properly over a time span of interest.   He is a recipient of the John von Neumann Theory Prize. Born in Galesburg, Illinois, Barlow earned mathematics degrees from Knox College and the University of Oregon, worked at the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, CA, and began a PhD in Mathematics at University of Washington before transferring to Stanford for a PhD in mathematical statistics.  At Stanford, he studied under Samuel Karlin and wrote his PhD dissertation on the applications of semi-Markov processes to reliability problems. When pursuing his graduate studies, Barlow worked at Sylvania Laboratories in Mountain View, California. It was here that he met Frank Proschan and started their collaboration on reliability.

Karlin arranged for Barlow to spend a postdoctoral year at the Institute of Defense Analyses in Princeton. There, he upset his supervisors by not working on codebreaking problems like his colleagues. Barlow declined an offer from the University of Maryland and returned to California and work at General Telephone and Electric Laboratories. In 1963, the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley was seeking a professor who specialized in reliability theory. Proschan, whose reputation was growing in that community, suggested Barlow for the position. Barlow was hired and remained at the university until his retirement in 1999.

Even after Proschan left the University California to join first Boeing and then the faculty at Florida State University, he and Barlow kept a close working relationship, co-authoring The Mathematical Theory of Reliability in 1965 and Statistical Theory of Reliability and Life Testing in 1975. Both works had a worldwide impact on reliability theory and established the two men as leading scholars in the field. They were jointly awarded the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1991 for their work in reliability theory, stochastic modeling, optimization, statistical inference and engineering design.

In addition to Berkeley, Barlow has held visiting positions at Boeing Laboratories in Seattle and Florida State. For thirty years, he had a relationship with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, working on a number of classified government projects. It was at Livermore where Barlow developed an interest in fault tree analysis. In 1975, he and Proschan co-authored a paper on the relative importance of the reliability of components to the reliability of the system of which they are a part, and the use of fault trees to measure the importance.

Barlow was elected as an inaugural Fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences in 2002 and is a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.  

Other Biographies

Richard E. Barlow Wikipedia (Deutsch) Entry

(2001) Preface. Hayakawa Y., Irony T., & Xie M., eds in System and Bayesian Reliability: Essays in Honor of Professor Richard E. Barlow, xiii-xvi. World Scientific Publishing Company: London.  

University of California, Berkeley Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. Faculty: Richard E. Barlow. Accessed April 29, 2015. (link)


Knox College, BS 1953

University of Oregon, MS 1955

Stanford University, PhD 1961 (Mathematics Genealogy


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Block H. W. (2001) A conversation with Richard Barlow. Statistical Science, 16(4): 368-388. (link

Awards and Honors

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1991

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Selected Publications

Barlow R. E., Marshall A. W. & Proschan, F. (1963) Properties of probability distributions with monotone hazard rate. The Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 34(2): 375-389.

Barlow R. E. & Proschan F. (1965) Mathematical Theory of Reliability. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Barlow R. E., Bartholomew D. J., Bremner J. M., & Brunk H. D. (1972) Statistical inference under order restrictions: the theory and application of isotonic regression. Wiley & Sons: New York.

Barlow R. E. & Proschan F. (1975) Statistical Theory of Reliability and Life Testing: Probability Models. Holt, Rinehart and Winston: New York.

Barlow R. E. & Proschan F. (1975) Importance of system components and fault tree events. Stochastic Processes and Their Applications, 3(2): 153-173.

Barlow R. E. & Wu A. S. (1978) Coherent systems with multi-state components. Mathematics of Operations Research, 3(4): 275-281.

Agrawal A. & Barlow R. E. (1984) A survey of network reliability and domination theory. Operations Research, 32(3): 478-492.

Barlow R. E. & Mendel M. B. (1992) De Finetti-type representations for life distributions. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 87(420): 1116-1122.

Barlow R. E. (1998) Engineering Reliability. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics: Philadelphia, PA.

Barlow R. E., Lai C. D., & Xie M. (2006) Stochastic Ageing and Dependence for Reliability. Springer Science & Business: New York.