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RPI Alumnus Sheldon Weinbaum ’59 Named Recipient of National Medal of Science

A distinguished RPI alumnus and a member of the Class of 1959, Sheldon  Weinbaum, Ph.D., was recognized with the National Medal of Science by U.S. President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony on October 24.

The award is the highest honor for scientific achievement bestowed by the United States government. The award recognizes individuals deserving of special recognition for their outstanding cumulative contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, or behavioral or social sciences, in service to the nation.

 “We are enormously proud of Dr. Weinbaum’s achievements,” said Rensselaer President Marty Schmidt. “The National Medal of Science is a crowning honor for such a tremendous giant of biomedical engineering. The work he has pioneered has saved countless lives around the world. Beyond that, he has long been a staunch advocate for women and underrepresented groups in science and engineering careers. We at RPI are delighted President Biden has chosen him for this great honor.” 

 President Biden said that Weinbaum was chosen for his “pathbreaking research in biomechanics. His models have driven innovation in physiology, bone biology, and blood flow, increasing our understanding of cardiovascular disease and leading to lifesaving treatments. His exceptional teaching and mentorship underscore his lifelong advocacy for diversity and inclusion, tapping into the full talents of our nation.”

“I am very honored to receive the National Medal of Science from President Biden during a particularly difficult time for our nation and world,” said Weinbaum. “His understanding and support for the importance of scientific innovation to our country is admirable. I am humbled and proud to have been honored for my lifetime of dedication to biomedical engineering research and education, and for being able to advocate for an equitable and inclusive playing field for all.”

 Weinbaum attended RPI on a full tuition scholarship for all four years and was the president of its service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, from 1957 to 1959. His dedication to women and minority issues is due in large measure to his wife of 62 years, Alexandra Weinbaum, who raised his consciousness as to the importance of diversity and inclusion

 A prolific researcher with more than 260 published papers, he is professor emeritus in the City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering, where he was instrumental in establishing The City College of New York’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and the New York Center for Biomedical Engineering, a research consortium with eight area hospitals and other institutions. The department in 2001 received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a “national urban model for minority biomedical engineering education.” The grant was renewed in 2006 for five additional years.

 Along with his pioneering work in the development of heat and mass transfer in biological systems, Weinbaum’s recent investigations include fluid dynamic and transport aspects of arterial disease, bioheat transfer, cellular mechanisms for mechanotransduction, bone fluid flow and the secret as to how bone cells sense mechanical strain, microcirculatory exchange, transport in kidney proximal tubule, basic fluid mechanics, and porous media flow. 

 Weinbaum is one of only a handful of living Americans elected to all three U.S. National Academies: Science, Engineering, and Medicine. His other honors include the 2021 Benjamin Franklin Medal, a Presidential Award for Mentoring of Minority Students in 2020, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ H.R. Lissner Award in 1994 and Melville Medal in 1996, and a National Science Foundation (NSF) “Special Creativity Award” in 1985.

 Outside the research arena, Weinbaum has devoted his career to advocacy for equality of access in public higher education. He was the inaugural director of the Diversity Committees for both the National Academy of Engineering and the ​National Academy of Science.

 After receiving his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Rensselaer in 1959, Weinbaum went on to earn his master’s degree in applied physics and doctorate in engineering from Harvard University in 1960 and 1963, respectively.

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