Roger Ware Brockett, Pioneering Harvard Engineer, Dies at 84

Roger Ware Brockett, a renowned expert in controlling systems and nonlinear control, died on March 19, 2023, at the age of 84. He made significant contributions to the field of engineering and revitalized Harvard University's engineering program during his illustrious career.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Roger Ware Brockett, Pioneering Harvard Engineer, Dies at 84

Roger Ware Brockett, Pioneering Harvard Engineer, Dies at 84

Roger Ware Brockett, arenowned expertin controlling systems and nonlinear control who revitalized Harvard University's engineering program, died on March 19, 2023, at the age of 84. As the An Wang Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emeritus, Brockett made significant contributions to the field of engineering that changed the way we think about controlling systems, from landing an airplane to buttoning a shirt.

Why this matters: Brockett's work in controlling systems and nonlinear control has far-reaching implications for various industries, including aerospace, robotics, and manufacturing. His legacy will continue to inspire and influence future generations of engineers, shaping the development of innovative technologies that impact our daily lives.

Born on October 22, 1938, in rural Ohio, Brockett was the youngest of seven children. He worked on his father's turkey farm and developed an early interest in electricity and machinery. Brockett earned a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University's Institute of Technology before teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for six years. He then moved to Harvard University, where he would spend the rest of his illustrious career.

Brockett created the field of nonlinear control, which has had a profound impact on various subfields and application domains. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and received numerous prestigious awards, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Control Systems Award and the Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award. Over his career, Brockett supervised 62 Ph.D. students and had 629 academic descendants who have shaped a remarkable range of subfields and application domains.

At Harvard, Brockett founded the Harvard Robotics Laboratory, which spawned a major research subfield. He also created Engineering Sciences 51, a course that allowed students to design and construct mechanical and electromechanical devices, leading to a resurgence in engineering at the university. Brockett was known for his kindness, directness, and midwestern values. He expected hard work and integrity from his students and had limited patience for obfuscation.

As a generous and devoted mentor, Brockett counseled students to love what they did, even if no one else did. "Roger Brockett was a giant in the field of engineering, whose work changed the way we think about controlling systems,"said a colleague. "He was also a kind and dedicated mentor who inspired generations of students and researchers."

Roger Ware Brockett's legacy in the field of engineering is immeasurable. His groundbreaking work in controlling systems and nonlinear control, along with his dedication to revitalizing Harvard's engineering program, will continue to inspire and influence future generations of engineers. At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on May 7, 2024, a tribute to Brockett's life and service was spread upon the permanent records of the Faculty, ensuring his contributions will never be forgotten.