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Stanford Oral History Collections

Bryson, Arthur E.
Bryson, Arthur E.
Bryson, Arthur E. and Marine-Street, Natalie J.
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
Arthur E. Bryson, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Stanford University Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, discusses his research and teaching career in aeronautical engineering and his contributions to the fields of flight mechanics and automated control. Bryson begins with a discussion of his childhood in Illinois, recalling impressions of his father’s work as an investment banker in Chicago, his education in the Winnetka Public Schools, and the impact of a high school math teacher on his life path. He describes the beginning of his undergraduate career at Haverford College, which was interrupted by World War II and his participation in the Navy’s V-5 program. He talks about his eventual training assignment at Iowa State College and describes how he met his future wife, Helen Layton, there. The ensuing years found Bryson stationed at the Alameda Naval Station, working in repair and maintenance, and he describes some of his experiences there. Bryson then speaks about his short stint as a paper manufacturing engineer working for the Container Corporation of America and as an aeronautical engineer at United Aircraft, where he began working with wind tunnels. In the late 1940s, Bryson migrated to California to pursue a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering with the help of the GI Bill. He describes his advisor, Hans W. Liepmann, and relates how at Liepmann’s invitation, and with the help of a fellowship from Hughes Aircraft, he stayed on at Cal-tech, completing his PhD in 1951. An important turning point in Bryson’s career was an encounter with Harvard professor Howard Wilson Emmons, who was assigned to be Bryson’s office mate while Emmons was on a short assignment at Hughes. Bryson relates the circumstances that led Emmons to ask him to join the faculty at Harvard as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1963. He offers a short account of departmental and family life and his research and consulting work while at Harvard, and notes that the increasingly contentious atmosphere surrounding the Vietnam War was one of the factors that led him to accept an invitation to join the Stanford engineering faculty in 1968. Bryson describes some of the opportunities and challenges of his new role as the chair of the Department of Applied Mechanics, and later the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He comments on his approach to teaching engineering and working with graduate students, recalls his work on Waves in Fluids and some of the other films in the Fluid Mechanics Films series, and relates stories about the anti-Vietnam War protests on campus. He concludes the interview with comments on the Gravity Probe B project and reflections on recent directions in biomechanical engineering and flight mechanics.
Arthur E. Bryson, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, Stanford University--Department of Applied Mechanics, Stanford University--Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, automatic control, and Kalman filtering
April 6, 2016
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012