Robert C. Armstrong

Robert C. Armstrong

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1948 – Present

Chemical Engineer
Awarded Bingham Medal 2006
PDF of Bingham Lecture

Robert (Bob) C. Armstrong received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1970 and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison less than three years later. His doctoral research at Wisconsin with Professor Bob Bird focused on the statistical mechanics of micromechanical models for dilute polymer solutions. In the thirty plus years since, his research interests broadened to include the development of constitutive theories for microstructured liquids, experimental measurements in rheology, the fluid mechanics of purely elastic flow instabilities, and computation of complex flows. Armstrong joined the MIT faculty in 1973, served as head of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1996 to 2007, and later became the Director of the MIT Energy Initiative. He was a member of MIT’s Future of Natural Gas and Future of Solar Energy study groups and co-chairs the Future of Storage study. He has served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Council for Chemical Research and joined the Board of Directors at Xyleco, Inc. in 2016.

All rheologists are familiar with the two-volume text Dynamics of Polymeric Liquids, authored by Bird (1974 Bingham Medalist), Armstrong, Ole Hassager (2020 Bingham Medalist) and, for volume 2, Chuck Curtiss (1987 Bingham Medalist). The first edition of “DPL”, as it is universally known, was originally published in 1977, and an extensively revised second edition of both volumes appeared in 1987. According to Bob Bird, the idea for this project came from fellow graduate students Armstrong and Hassager. The purpose of writing DPL1 and DPL2 was the recognition by these talented students that there was no textbook available that addressed the molecular aspects of the rheology of polymer materials. The book was chosen as a “Citation Classic” in 1988, a designation given by Current Contents for papers or books that are highly cited in their fields. By 1988 when DPL was named a Citation Classic, volume 1 of the 1977 edition had been cited over 450 times, and volume 2 of that edition had been cited at least 315 times. More recently, Armstrong worked with George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, to co-edit Game Changers: Energy on the Move.

As a mentor, Armstrong's record is particularly noteworthy. His enthusiasm for research and academics has inspired a significant second generation of academic scholars at numerous universities, including faculty at such top schools such as U.C. Berkeley (Muller), MIT (McKinley), Delaware (Beris and Shine), Columbia (Shapley), North Carolina State (Khan) and Univerdidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina (Quinzani). With long-time collaborator Robert A. (Bob) Brown, Armstrong influenced a generation of chemical engineers across the continents.

Armstrong was president of The Society of Rheology from 1994 to 95 and served on the Executive Committee from 1992 to 97. In his time as President of the SOR, Armstrong was responsible for two very important transitions. The first was a turnover in the position of Editor of the Journal of Rheology. Armstrong's process resulted in the highly successful 10-year tenure of Morton Denn as JOR editor from 1995 to 2005 (for which Denn was recognized with the SOR Distinguished Service Award in 2005). The process devised by Armstrong was followed once again in 2005 when Denn stepped down and John Brady was nominated to replace him.

A second important contribution as president was Armstrong’s initiative to create The Society’s website (, and the appointment of webmaster Albert Co. As far back as 1995 Armstrong foresaw the importance of a web presence for The Society, and he wrote a message in the January 1995 issue of the Rheology Bulletin in which he asked for volunteers to build a Society website. Albert Co of the University of Maine was getting involved in website building for his home institution, and he expressed interest in helping. After a working lunch between Co and Armstrong at the SPE meeting that year, additional consultations with Chris Petrie (British Society of Rheology webmaster), some Executive Committee deliberations, and an intense summer of work by Co, the SOR website was launched in late 1995. The SOR website has subsequently grown to become the main mechanism by which The Society keeps in touch with its members and society at large, keeps its records, plans and organizes its meetings, conducts its elections, and in general keeps itself afloat. Armstrong's vision on this issue (and Co's hard work, for which he was recognized with the SOR Distinguished Service Award in 1999) is a significant contribution to The Society.

Armstrong has received a wide variety of awards throughout his academic career including the MIT ChemE Outstanding Faculty Award (1975), AIChE Professional Progress Award (1992), the University of Wisconsin Distinguished Service Citation (2001), and the AIChE Warren K. Lewis Award (2006). He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2008. According to long-time collaborator Bob Brown, “No other researcher in non-Newtonian fluid mechanics can claim either [Armstrong’s] range of activities or the resulting impact on practice and on other research programs.”


“Armstrong, Robert C.” American Men and Women of Science, 29th ed.; Gale: Farmington Hills, MI, 2011; Vol. 1.

Robert C. Armstrong. MIT Energy Inititative (accessed Jul 31, 2019).

Robert C. Armstrong. MIT ChemE Faculty (accessed Jul 31, 2019).

Xyleco, Inc. announces that Robert C. Armstrong Ph.D., Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, has joined its Board of Directors. Xyleco (accessed Jul 31, 2019).

Note: This biography is an adaptation of the following article previously published by The Society of Rheology.

Armstrong to receive 2006 Bingham Medal. Rheology Bulletin 2006, 75(2).