Howard Wilson Emmons


Howard Wilson Emmons (1912–1998) was an American professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering at Harvard University.[1] During his career he conducted original research on fluid mechanics, combustion and fire safety. Today he is most widely known for his pioneering work in the field of fire safety engineering. He has been called "the father of modern fire science" for his contribution to the understanding of flame propagation and fire dynamics.[2] He also helped design the first supersonic wind tunnel, identified a signature of the transition to turbulence in boundary layer flows (now known as "Emmons spots"), and was the first to observe compressor stall in a gas turbine compressor (still a major item of research today).[3] He initiated studies on diffusion flames inside a boundary layer, and Emmons problem is named after him. He was eventually awarded the Timoshenko Medal by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the 1968 Sir Alfred Egerton Gold Medal from The Combustion Institute.

Howard Wilson Emmons
Born(1912-08-30)August 30, 1912
DiedNovember 20, 1998(1998-11-20) (aged 86)
Alma materStevens Institute of Technology
Harvard University
Known forEmmons problem
Scientific career
FieldsFluid dynamics
InstitutionsWestinghouse Electric Company
University of Pennsylvania
Harvard University
ThesisThe drop condensation of vapors (1938)
Doctoral advisorJohn Finnie Downie Smith
Charles Harold Berry
Doctoral studentsRichard Ernest Kronauer
Tony Maxworthy
Ephraim M. Sparrow

Upon Professor Emmons' death, Professor Patrick Pagni wrote, "It is not possible to properly summarize the magnitude of Professor Emmons' unique contributions to the establishment of fire safety science as a discipline, other than to call him "Mr. Fire Research".[4]

He continues to be remembered through the Emmons Lecture at International Symposium of The International Association for Fire Safety Science and the Howard W. Emmons Distinguished Scholar Endowment at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


Awards and honorsEdit

Selected publicationsEdit

Sole AuthorEdit

The Drop Condensation of Vapors
Harvard University Thesis (S.D.), 1938.

Gas dynamics tables for air
Dover: New York, NY, 1947.

Fundamentals of Gas Dynamics
Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ, 1958.

Fluid mechanics and combustion
Proceedings of the 13th International Symposium on Combustion, p. 1-18 Pittsburgh, Pa., Combustion Institute, 1971.

“The Further History of Fire Science” Combustion Science and Technology, 40, 1984 (reprinted in Fire Technology, 21(3), 1985 [1])


Thermodynamic properties of helium to 50.000°K
by Wilbert James Lick, Howard Wilson Emmons Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1962.

Transport properties of helium from 200 to 50.000°K
by Wilbert James Lick, Howard Wilson Emmons Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1965.

The fire whirl
by Howard W. Emmons and Shuh-Jing Ying Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Combustion, p. 475-486 Pittsburgh, Pa., Combustion Institute, 1967.

See alsoEdit

  • Howard W Emmons, Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10 (2002) National Academy of Engineering [2]
  • TV show where Howard Emmons speaks of the 1980 MGM Las Vegas fire and of the fire code Harvard Video on YouTube
  • The Web of Mechanicians
  • Howard W. Emmons Papers at WPI


  1. ^ Land and Trefethen, 1999
  2. ^ Beyler, 1999
  3. ^ Kronauer et al., 2007
  4. ^ Bryner 2000, p.425-427.
  5. ^ "APS Fellow Archive". American Physical Society. (search on year=1946 and institution=Harvard University)


  • Howard W. Emmons, Authority on Fire Safety, Dies at 86, Harvard University Gazette (Dec 3 1998).
  • Kronauer, Land, Stone, and Abernathy, Howard Wilson Emmons, Faculty of Arts and Sciences - Memorial Minute, Harvard University Gazette (March 1, 2007).
  • Bryner, S.L., ed. "Symposium in Memory of Professor Howard Emmons", Fifteenth Meeting of the UJNR Panel on Fire Safety, Volume 2, March 2000.
  • Land, R.I. and Trefethen, L.M. "A Tribute To Howard Wilson Emmons, 1912–1998", Journal of Fluids Engineering 121(2), p. 234-235 (June 1999).
  • Beyler, Craig. "Guest Editorial: Professor Howard Emmons 1912-1998", Fire Technology 35(1), p. 1 (Feb 1999). [3]

External linksEdit