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Vale Emeritus Professor Graeme Austin Bird AO

6 June 2018
Celebrating the life of an aeronautical engineering extraordinaire
We are saddened by news of the passing of Emeritus Professor Graeme Austin Bird on May 26th 2018, aged 88. Professor Bird was an internationally-renowned Australian scientist and aeronautical engineer.

During his leadership of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Sydney, Professor Bird taught a generation of scientists and aeronautical engineers.  He also made fundamental contributions to the study of molecular gas dynamics.  He will be missed by all of us in the Faculty of Engineering and IT and the wider University community.

Professor Bird graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours in 1952 and spent a period at the Cranfield Aeronautical College in the United Kingdom before receiving his Masters in 1959 and Doctorate in 1963.

At 34, Professor Bird was appointed Lawrence Hargrave Professor of Aeronautical Engineering and Head of the Department at Sydney in 1964.

In this role he was tasked with building the School’s reputation for excellence in teaching and research and providing aeronautical engineering graduates to government departments, RAAF, airlines and the aircraft industry, a role that continued until 1990.

For over 40 years, Professor Bird worked in close collaboration with and as a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Langley, Virginia and held visiting Professorships at Imperial College London, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Manchester, the Max Plank Institute for Stormungforchung and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 

He was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, the Institution of Engineers, the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the American National Engineering Foundation. 

In 1990, he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Scientist Award, one of the few non-Americans to be so honoured. 

Professor Bird’s research focused on the field of molecular gas dynamics, whereby the behaviour of gases are simulated by emulating them as individual molecules together with all their chemical and mechanical behaviour.

He pioneered the Direct Molecular Simulation – Monte Carlo Method (DSMC), a gas flow simulation technique which was originally used for simulation of rarefied gas flow around re-entry vehicles but is now used for solving a large range of aerodynamic and aerospace problems.  DSMC calculations have assisted in the design of vacuum systems, including those for semiconductor manufacture, and of many space vehicles and missions.

With Professor Bird’s development of the DSMC, and his many contributions to its evolution and advancement for more than 50 years, the scientific community now has a powerful and widely used tool for a wide range of applications. For example, the use of DSMC at NASA has been used to identify heating and aerodynamic forces encountered by the International Space Station as the Space Shuttle approached for docking.

His published work, which included more than 160 articles, attracting some 8000 citations, is testament to its importance to the international research community. Professor Bird published his third and final monograph, entitled The DSMC Method, in 2013, at the age of 83.

Today, work continues at NASA where DSMC is being used to predict the transitional aerodynamics and heating environment for the next manned space vehicle, the Orion capsule, along with efforts to define Mars exploration options and specific missions. 

“Professor Bird worked for 20 years to change the way people thought and his work has had such a huge effect on the way people who design space vehicles go about their business. They all use his methods.”
Emeritus Professor Grant Steven

In 2017, his influence on Australian society was recognised with his award of an Order of Australia for distinguished service to aeronautical engineering, particularly in the field of molecular gas dynamics, as a researcher and academic, to professional scientific organisations, and as a mentor of young scientists.

“Professor Graeme A. Bird is recognised for his outstanding and meritorious service over many decades to the field of Engineering.  His exemplary international reputation as a pioneer in the area of molecular gas dynamics is a legacy that lives on across many sectors of engineering,” said Professor Stefan Williams, Head of the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering