Walter O’Brien, the J. Bernard Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech who died July 25, 2019, has been posthumously conferred the title of professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The emeritus title may be conferred on retired professors, associate professors, and administrative officers who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands in recognition of exemplary service to the university. Nominated individuals who are approved by the board receive a copy of the resolution and a certificate of appreciation.

A member of the Virginia Tech community from 1964 to 2019, O’Brien was the first Virginia Tech mechanical engineering professor to establish an identifiable research group, the Gas Turbine Research Institute, which he did as a junior faculty member. The effort marked a turning point in the department’s evolution from a well-respected regional teaching faculty into a nationally recognized research power.

In 1987, O'Brien was a visiting scientist in the Aero Propulsion Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In 1990, he was appointed associate dean for research and graduate studies for the College of Engineering, and he was one of the founding associate deans of the Virginia Consortium of Engineering and Science Universities.

In 1993 he was named head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he served until 2004. In 2002 he chaired a successful multi-university proposal to found the National Institute of Aerospace, a NASA-affiliated Research Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

During his tenure, O’Brien supervised the graduate work of more than 130 master’s degree and Ph.D. students and published more than 150 technical papers and journal articles in the field of propulsion.

An internationally recognized expert in the field of propulsion, O’Brien was a Life Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was a recipient of the SAE’s Teetor Award as an Outstanding Engineering Educator and the Virginia Joint Engineering Society’s Pletta Award as the Outstanding Engineering Educator in the State of Virginia, in addition to many other awards and recognition.

In 2018 O’Brien was elected to the inaugural class of the Mechanical Engineering Society of Distinguished Alumni.

He received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree from Purdue University.

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In memoriam: Walter F. O'Brien Jr., J. Bernard Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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