Robert Herman

ORSA President, 1980


Robert (Bob) Herman was the 29th President of ORSA. He will always be remembered as the undisputed father of transportation science, having done some of the most important seminal work on modeling of traffic systems, having led the founding of the Transportation Science Section. He was the founding editor (1967-73) of Transportation Science journal. At the time of his death in 1997 he was L.P. Gilvin Centennial Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (1979-1997.) He had previously worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (1945-55) and the General Motors Research Laboratory (1956-1979) where he headed the Theoretical Physics Department.

Bob Herman was a scientist’s scientist, known both for his work not only in Transportation Science but also in Physics. It was while at Johns Hopkins he and Ralph Alpher did their famous work in cosmology. As a consequence of their studies in nucleosynthesis in the early expanding big bang universe, they made the first theoretical prediction, in 1948, of the existence of a residual homogeneous isotopic black body radiation (microwave radiation) that pervades the universe, as a vestige of the initial big bang explosion. It was not until 1964 that to Penzias and Wilson detected this predicted cosmic background radiation, for which they won the Nobel Prize. Herman and Alpher received the Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society (1975), and the Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1993), the John Wetherhill Gold Medal of the Franklin Institute, and the Georges Vanderlinden Prix of the Belgian Royal Academy.

When he joined General Motors he invented a new science of traffic theory. His work with Montroll resulted in a car-following theory of traffic flow that is still state of the art. With Nobelist Prigione he developed a kinetic theory of multilane flow

In addition to being ORSA President he was a member of its Council. As an ORSA officer and practitioner, he challenged the society to continue redefining its mission as one of addressing new, important societal problems and not just refining solutions to old ones.

Herman’s list of O.R. honors is long. It includes election to the National Academy of Engineering (1978), Fellow in the mathematical and physical sciences of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Lanchester Prize (1959), the ORSA/TIMS John von Neumann Theory Prize for "fundamental contributions to the theory of vehicular traffic"; the Philip McCord Morse Lectureship (1991); the Kimball Medal (1976) the ORSA Transportation Science Section's first Lifetime Achievement Award (1990) which was named after him; the New York Academy of Sciences Award in Physical and Mathematical Sciences (1981); the William A. Patterson Distinguished Lectureship in Transportation from Northwestern University (1993); the New York Academy of Sciences Award in Physical and Mathematical Sciences (1981); the 1993 Roy W. Crum Distinguished Service Award of the Transportation Research Board; and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of India. In Physics he received BS City College of New York; PhD (Physics) Princeton, 1940.

Robert Herman's Awards