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Former Professor Mollo-Christensen, concentration camp survivor, 86

Erik L. Mollo-Christensen
Erik L. Mollo-Christensen
Photo courtesy / MIT Museum

Former professor and NASA scientist Erik L. Mollo-Christensen '48, SM '49, ScD '54 who resisted Nazi occupation of his native Norway and survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, died on Feb. 20. He was 86.

Mollo-Christensen taught at MIT for more than 30 years as a professor of aeronautics, meteorology and oceanography. He was credited with significant discoveries in the physics of turbulence flow, jet noise, aero elasticity, air-sea interaction and the field of fluid dynamics, including major work on blood flow.

Born Jan. 10, 1923, in Bergen, Norway, Mollo-Christensen joined the Norwegian resistance during World War II. He was captured by the Nazis and sent in 1943 to Germany's Buchenwald camp, where as many as 56,000 prisoners are estimated to have died. After the war, he returned briefly to Norway before moving to Cambridge in 1946 to begin his studies at MIT.

Hired by the Institute in 1948, he became an associate professor in 1955 and a full professor in 1962. He left MIT in the mid-1980s for NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where he served as chief of the Laboratory for Oceans and associate director of Earth Sciences. He remained a research affiliate at MIT through June 1995.

Mollo-Christensen was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hiking, skiing, sailing and being near the ocean. He conducted buoy research off Cuttyhunk Island, Mass., where his family built a summer home. An expert on tides and currents, he frequently advised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and worked as a consultant for the government of Bangladesh and the city of Venice.

In 1957, Mollo-Christensen was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was the 1970 Von Karman lecturer of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and fellow of the American Physical Society.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Johanna, of Lexington; three children; six grandchildren; a brother and many nieces and nephews. Contributions in Mollo-Christensen's memory may be made to the Mount Auburn Hospital, 330 Mount St., Cambridge, MA 02138.

A memorial service will be held in the spring.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 4, 2009 (download PDF).

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