Robert Herman

Robert Herman

Past Awards

John von Neumann Theory Prize: Winner(s)

Robert Herman, whose research interests have taken him from the center of urban traffic congestion to the unimaginable expanses of the universe during a remarkable scientific career that has spanned nearly 60 years, was named the 1993 recipient of the John von Neumann Theory Prize.

The prize was presented by Michael Rothkopf in recognition of Herman's fundamental contributions to the theory of vehicular traffic, leading to basic understanding of this important human activity, and giving us tools for improving the quality of our lives.

Herman, the L.P. Gilvin Centennial Professor Emeritus in the Dept. of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, told an awards luncheon crowd he was deeply flattered, highly honored and rather overwhelmed by what he described as an embarrassment of riches that has come his way of late. Along with the von Neumann Theory Prize, Herman was recently awarded the prestigious Henry Draper Medal by the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy's oldest award.

I have learned something very important from all of this, joked the 78-year-old Herman. If you live long enough, even something good can happen.

Internationally recognized as the father of traffic science, Herman's contributions span the entire 35 years of scientific activity in this area, Rothkopf said in his presentation remarks. Rothkopf continued:

Drawing upon his background in physics in which he is equally as distinguished as he is in operations research and management science, he first directed his attention to the description of the microscopic behavior of traffic – the detailed manner in which individual drivers avoid coinciding with each other in space and time, at least most of the time.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he joined the late Elliott Montroll and others in developing the car-following theory of traffic flow, a theory that has stood the test of time and is still the state of art today. He shared the Lanchester Prize in 1959 for this work.

Shortly thereafter, he and Ilya Prigogine, now a Nobel Laureate, developed a theory of multi-lane traffic flow based on traffic viewed as an ensemble of interactive fluid particles. This model gives the best description of traffic as it changes from low to high density: Cars start as mostly free moving particles at low density, but are forced into a state of coordinated behavior at high density.

Over the years, Bob Herman has moved into diverse fields of traffic science, leaving his characteristic mark of excellence in these fields. In recent years, he, his students and his colleagues have been formulating a two-fluid model of town traffic which provides a description of vehicular traffic in urban areas. This theory promises to be important in the development of Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems.

Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award: Awardee(s)

Philip McCord Morse Lectureship Award: Winner(s)

George E. Kimball Medal: Awardee(s)

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize: Winner(s)

A group of three papers on traffic dynamics:

  • Robert E. Chandler, Robert Herman, and Elliott W. Montroll, "Traffic Dynamics: Studies in Car Following," Operations Research 6, pp. 165-184 (March-April, 1958);
  •  Robert Herman, Elliott W. Montroll, Renfrey B. Potts, and Richard W. Rohtery, "Traffic Dynamics: Analysis of Stability in Car Following," Operations Research 7, pp. 86-106 (January-February 1959);
  • Denos C. Gazis, Robert Herman, and Renfrey B. Potts, "Car-Following Theory of Steady-State Traffic Flow," Operations Research 7, pp. 499-505 (July-August 1959).

The Committee's appraisals of the papers nominated are well summarized by some of the remarks of screeners.

  • With regard to the trilogy of papers on traffic research it was felt that they represent ". . . a fruitful application of a rich body of mathematical theory persuasively supported by experimental and computational evidence....In spite of a heavily mathematical texture, the exposition is remarkably clear and lucid". They ". . . demonstrate the superiority of the scientific method in a field bogged down by statistical analysis. . . ". In connection with the third paper of the series, "the discovery of the identical equation for steady-state behavior of vehicular traffic, assuming a car-following model, to that derived by Greenberg assuming a fluid model is an important original discovery." It "tackles the very important problem of traffic congestion, which is the source of great economic loss and a problem on a grand scale worthy of the best efforts of operations research." The Committee also felt that awards should encourage the practice of publishing a series of papers reporting a single research program as it progresses, to the point of including papers from previous years in the citation.