Remembering alumnus Robert Nerem (1937-2020), bioengineering pioneer

Posted: March 11, 2020
Bob Nerem at Alumni Awards
Bob Nerem accepts his Lifetime Achievement Award at Alumni Awards Dinner in fall 2017

With sadness, the College of Engineering shares that distinguished alumnus Robert Nerem passed away on March 6 at the age of 82.

For his role as one of the pioneers of bioengineering, Nerem received the College of Engineering’s Benjamin G. Lamme Meritorious Achievement Medal in 2004 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

Nerem earned his bachelor’s degree (’59) from the University of Oklahoma and his master’s (’61) and PhD (’64) in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ohio State. His academic career began at Ohio State in 1964 when he joined the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. In 1972, he was promoted to full professor and later served as associate dean for research in the graduate school.

He was a professor and chair at the University of Houston from 1979 to 1986, before he was named Parker H. Petit Distinguished Chair for Engineering in Medicine at Georgia Tech. In 1995, he launched the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and served as its director through 2009.

He spent much of his career exploring critical health-related topics such as blood flow in large arteries, the role of hemodynamics in the onset of atherosclerosis, and more recently, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. He authored more than 200 publications.

Bob Nerem in 1970s
Nerem at Ohio State, circa 1976

Among a litany of awards and honors, in 1988 Nerem was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering. In 1992, he was also elected a member of the Institute of Medicine, resulting in a rare combination. He was a Fellow and the founding president of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2017, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) established the Robert M. Nerem Education and Mentorship Medal to recognize individuals who play a role in influencing engineering careers in the growing field of bioengineering.

Nerem was also very interested in the next generation of engineers. To increase the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, he and colleagues at Georgia Tech created Project ENGAGES in partnership with three public high schools in Atlanta.

Bob Nerem, who lived in Stone Mountain, is survived by Marilyn, his wife of more than 40 years; his children, Steven Nerem and Nancy Nerem Black; Marilyn’s children, Christy Maser and Carol Wilcox; and multiple grandchildren. A celebration of his life is being planned for the near future.

Learn more about Bob’s amazing career and life in this tribute article by the Petit Institute and this three-minute video by ASME from 2019.

Category: Alumni