MIT ocean engineer Jerry Milgram, William I. Koch Professor of Marine Technology, designed the last U.S. winner of the America's Cup, pioneered oil spill cleanup and investigated dozens of notorious marine disasters. Now, as the legendary professor and "sea-going Sherlock Holmes" prepares to retire after more than four decades on the MIT faculty, his career is the focus of a new exhibition in the MIT Museum's Compton Gallery.
The multimedia show, "Jerry Milgram: an exceptional ocean engineer," is a celebration of the long and storied career of the MIT alumnus. It includes models of world-famous raching yachts, a replica of the America's Cup trophy, hundreds of stunning images and interviews with Milgram and colleagues presented in interactive video displays.
For more than a century, MIT has been a key player in ocean engineering. MIT research has advanced U.S. naval technology, created submersible vehicles capable of withstanding the harsh deep-ocean environment and innovated offshore energy production. MIT graduates' impact spans ship design and building, ocean transport, security, energy, safety, salvage, marine science and archaeology.
"The hydrodyanamics of what happens at or near the surface of the sea is one of my main categories of expertise," Milgram said. This applies to many aspects of his wide-ranging career as naval architect, computer-aided sail designer, entrepreneur and educator of more than a generation of naval officers and ocean engineers. Among the first to apply advanced scientific technology to yacht design, he is probably best known for his work on sail and hull design for every America's Cup boat since 1968.
As an ocean accident expert, Milgram investigated, among other disasters, the 1982 sinking off Newfoundland of the mobile offshore drilling rig Ocean Ranger, which killed its entire crew. He testified before Congress on how to reduce the impact of oil spills such as that of the Exxon Valdez.
Milgram's life work is closely entwined with that of fellow MIT 1962 alumnus Bill Koch. Koch, a contributor to the Milgram museum exhibition, was skipper and syndicate manager for America3, the last winning U.S. entry in the America's Cup competition.
The America's Cup, the oldest sporting trophy in the world, represents the pinnacle of yacht design. When Koch, a businessman and scientist, became involved with yacht racing in the early 1980s, he teamed up with Milgram to build the world's fastest boat.
"When I was introduced to Jerry -Milgram, I knew I had finally found someone who understood how to apply the scientific method to sailing," Koch said.
The Milgram exhibition opened Aug. 31 and will run in MIT's Compton Gallery, Building 10-150, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass., through Feb. 3, 2008. For information, see web.mit.edu/museum/exhibitions/compton.html.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2007 (download PDF).