Warren Max Rohsenow, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, dies at 90

Pioneered research in gas turbines and nuclear reactors


Warren Max Rohsenow, a professor emeritus in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and founder and director of MIT’s Heat Transfer Laboratory, passed away June 3 at his home in Falmouth, Maine. He was 90.

To most everyone he met, Rohsenow was affectionately known as Warren, or “Rosy.” He was a mechanical engineer by training, having earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s and PhD from Yale University. After writing one of the first theses on gas turbines, Rohsenow served in the U.S. Navy for two years, where he developed temperature instrumentation for the first gas turbine tested in the United States. 

Rohsenow began his teaching career at Yale before joining MIT in 1946. Ten years later, he became founder and director of the Heat Transfer Laboratory, where he published papers on improving gas-turbine regenerators, and began an extensive research effort in heat transfer for nuclear reactors. His work on gas turbines, heat exchangers, heat transfer in nuclear reactors and condensation in cooling towers was at the forefront of the field for nearly 60 years, and forms the underpinnings of many developments in the thermal-power industry today. 

During his tenure at MIT, Roshenow also developed the graduate program in heat transfer, and his classroom teachings were noted for emphasizing fundamentals and practice-oriented problems.

Rohsenow was a world authority and served as an expert consultant on problems related to heat transfer and thermodynamics. He lectured worldwide, and authored and co-authored more than 100 journal papers, as well as hundreds of conference papers and technical reports. He also co-authored two heat transfer textbooks and was senior editor of multiple editions of the definitive handbook on heat transfer, still widely used today.

Rohsenow’s professional awards were extensive. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science and the National Academy of Engineering, and recipient of the Max Jakob Memorial Award, jointly presented by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the ASME Medal.  

In the late 1950s, Rohsenow co-founded and was chairman of Dynatech Corporation, a consulting and manufacturing company responsible for significant developments in the fields of cryosurgery, blood testing, cooling systems, lightning detection, weather mapping and modem monitoring for national reservation systems.

Rohsenow was an accomplished pianist who played jazz with various ensembles at MIT. He kept a piano in his office, which he would occasionally roll out into the corridor for departmental parties. In 1985, after 39 years of service, Rohsenow retired from MIT, and the Heat Transfer Laboratory was renamed in his honor. 

A service in celebration of Rohsenow’s life will be held on Friday, June 10, at 3 p.m. at Foreside Community Church in Falmouth, Maine, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, gifts to MIT in memory of Warren Rohsenow may be made for the Warren M. Rohsenow Fellowship Fund, account #3310800. Checks should be payable to MIT and mailed to Bonny Kellermann, MIT Director of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drive Room W98-5th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139. Credit card gifts may be made at: https://giving.mit.edu/givenow/ConfirmGift.dyn?desig=3310800


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