Ronald G. Larson

Ronald G. Larson

University of Michigan

1953 – Present

Chemical Engineer
Awarded Bingham Medal 2002
Fellow, Elected 2015

Ronald G. Larson was born in Litchfield, Minnesota on March 30, 1953. He obtained all three of his degrees at the University of Minnesota, graduating with a B.S. in 1975, M.S. in 1977, and completing a Ph.D. with L.E. Scriven in 1980. Upon graduation, he took a position at the famous AT&T Bell Laboratories, and, in time, became a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff. After a remarkably productive period there, he left in 1996 to join the faculty of the University of Michigan as a Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department. He became the Granger Brown Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering in 2000. He served the department as Chair for eight years. In 2014, Larson was named the A.H. White Distinguished University Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Ron is a “Renaissance Man” of rheology, excelling in molecular and continuum theory, molecular simulation, and experiment. This is typified by considering just three of the many areas with which he is identified:

Constitutive Theories. This is an area that established his reputation as a heavyweight in rheology. This is all the more remarkable since, at the time, the field was notoriously disjoint and very difficult to comprehend in a unified way. That is precisely what Larson did. Throughout his research in the mid-80s on distributions of relaxation times and the influence thereof on constitutive behavior, he revealed a relationship between molecular and continuum approaches that was not previously appreciated. This culminated in his book, Constitutive Equations for Polymer Melts and Solutions (Butterworths, 1988). Many veteran rheologists have learned much from this important book. A more recent example is his work with Mead and Doi on constraint release theories. These results permit one to apply the Doi-Edwards theory to highly nonlinear flows, an extremely important generalization. Likewise, his work with McLeish has explained extensional hardening and shear thinning for classes of branched polymers. Their 1998 "pom-pom" paper won the Journal of Rheology Publication Award and has had a major impact in the field. It is one of the most-cited papers in the Journal of Rheology.

Liquid Crystal Polymers. Larson’s emergence as an authority in this area is the result of his presence in the stimulating surroundings of Bell Laboratories in the 1980s and early 90s. The essence of his work has been to elucidate microstructure in LCPs due to flow. In particular, his studies of arrested tumbling during shear (1990) and the importance of “textured domains” (1991) with Doi are the basis for much of the present state of knowledge of the dependence of LCP structure on imposed flow fields.

Individual Molecular Behavior. Larson’s collaborations with Chu and others on observations of DNA molecules in shearing fields has, along with related studies by others, been nothing short of astounding. Thanks to these multidisciplinary endeavors, it is now possible to understand what individual macromolecules do in well-defined flow fields. Larson and his coworkers revealed the unraveling dynamics in shear and extensional flow that give rise to macroscopic non-Newtonian effects in the system stress. Key papers in this series include a 1995 publication in Science with Perkins, Smith, and Chu, and a subsequent 1999 paper on molecular stretching in dilute DNA solutions (also with Chu’s group), for which Larson did the molecular simulations.

Larson’s list of achievements includes other “firsts” as well, such as his discovery (together with S.J. Muller and E.S.G. Shaqfeh) of a new viscoelastic instability in Taylor-Couette flow. Suffice it to say that there is hardly any aspect of the rheology of complex liquids that Larson has not addressed, with important contributions as the result. He became one of the world’s preeminent authorities across a broad range of rheology subspecialties at a young age and has contributed substantially to both the research and educational literature of the field. Besides his many articles and book on constitutive theories, he has written The Structure and Rheology of Complex Fluids (Oxford, 1999) and Rheology of Molten Polymers: From Structure to Flow Behavior and Back Again with John Dealy (Hanser Gardner 2006).

In addition to being prolific in research, Ron has been generous with his time and talent. He served as a very effective president of The Society of Rheology (1997-1999) and has been an influential mentor to younger rheologists, including Eric Shaqfeh, Lynden Archer, Jaye Magda, David Mead, Susan Muller, Karen Winey, Saad Khan, and Faith Morrison. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society (1994) as well as a member of the National Academy of Engineering (2003), and he has served as Prudential Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, England in 1996. He has been awarded the 1999 Journal of Rheology Publication Award, the 2000 Alpha Chi Sigma Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the 2013 Stephen S. Attwood Award from the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Finally, he was awarded a Distinguished University Professorship in 2013 and the Department of Chemical Engineering Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award in 2017, both from the University of Michigan. In short, the committee concluded that Larson is not only deserving of the Bingham Medal for his research accomplishments, but he is the epitome of the type of person whom we want to represent rheology to the public.


“Larson, Ronald G.” American Men and Women of Science, 29th ed.; Gale: Farmington Hills, MI, 2011; Vol. 4.

Ronald G. Larson. Rockwell Lecture Series. Cullen College of Engineering, University of Houston (accessed Jul 31, 2019).

Ronald G. Larson. Core Faculty. Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan (accessed Jul 31, 2019).

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

2002 Bingham Medalist Goes to Ron Larson. Rheology Bulletin 2002, 71(2).