Lifetime Achievement: Professor Emeritus Jerome Milgram

The Sherlock Holmes of the Seas

by Alissa Mallinson


Jerome Milgram

Professor Emeritus Jerome Milgram
Photo courtesy of the MIT Museum

He refers to himself as a seagoing Sherlock Holmes.

Known for many things, not least of which is his expert understanding of hydrodynamics, fluid mechanics, and oceanography, Professor Emeritus Jerome Milgram is perhaps most highly regarded for his work as an ocean investigator, an unrelenting seeker of the most precise ocean science and engineering truths. He was a member of the MIT team that produced the leading research on how oil escapes from a boom, and a frontrunner in oil containment research and technology, both of which helped to establish him as a leading expert in marine accident investigation.

“Professor Jerry Milgram takes a very careful, and scientific, data-driven approach to things,” says Penn Edmonds (’83), a naval architect on the 1993 winning America’s Cup team, of which Milgram played an integral part with his cutting-edge, analytical ship designs.

Milgram started out as an undergraduate in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, adding naval architecture and ocean engineering to his list of majors as he became increasingly interested in the aerodynamics of sails. After graduation he continued on at MIT, becoming captain of the Sailing Team and earning a PhD in ocean engineering. His thesis laid the foundation for the analytical method of designing sails that is standard today.
Shortly thereafter, Professor Milgram became a member of the faculty at MIT, and was asked by Professor James Faye to join a study about how oil spreads on the oceans and booms. As a result of this research, he was one of the early developers of oil spill cleanup equipment, for which he holds 12 patents.

In addition to teaching naval architecture, ocean engineering, theoretical hydrodynamics, system dynamics, and numerical marine hydrodynamics in the MIT Department of Ocean Engineering, he has also taught fluid mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as signals and systems, and modern optics in the Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Professor Milgram has this remarkable breadth of coverage of the disciplines that make up ocean engineering,” says John Leonard, Associate Head of Research in MechE and Professor of Ocean Engineering. 
“He has an approach that’s uniquely MIT,” adds Professor Michael Triantafyllou, the William I. Koch Professor of Ocean Engineering, and the Director of the Center of Ocean Engineering. “He doesn’t know just design; he knows naval architecture, hydrodynamics in particular, as well as electrical engineering.”

Professor Milgram’s research areas have included ship development, the behavior of oil spills on the ocean, the behavior of sea waves and of natural surfactants on the surface of the ocean, and the dynamics of underwater vehicles, among many other topics. He’s authored more than 100 publications, and is a Life Fellow of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, as well as a Life Member of the National Academy of Engineering.