Stanley Berger, known for his work in blood flow, dies at 79

Stanley A. Berger, Montford G. Cook professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a renowned expert in fluid mechanics, died on Nov. 25, 2013. He was 79.

Berger died at his home in Berkeley of pneumonia.

Stanley BergerStanley Berger (Peg Skorpinski photo)In his 50 years on the UC Berkeley faculty, Berger applied his knowledge to solving real-life problems in physiology, medicine and engineering, on topics ranging from sickle cell anemia to vortex breakdowns in aircraft flight.

He was best known for his research on the mechanics of blood flow. He was instrumental in work with the UCSF School of Medicine on analyzing the progression of arterial and atherosclerotic diseases, work that had a direct effect on the diagnosis and treatment decisions being made by radiologists and surgeons.

“He was a pioneer in the field of physiologic fluid dynamics,” wrote Jerome Aroesty, a senior research scientist at the RAND Corporation, where Berger worked as a consultant for more than two decades.

Berger was also a founding member of UC Berkeley’s bioengineering department, which opened in 1998.

Berger was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, the child of European immigrants. He grew up playing stickball in the streets of Flatbush and Michigan Rummy around the dining room table with his large Jewish family, many of whom lived in the same apartment building.

A gifted student, he enrolled at Cornell University at 16, but was terribly homesick, and returned after one year to attend Brooklyn College.

Berger received his Ph.D. from Brown University in applied mathematics and was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University before moving to California in 1961 to become an assistant professor at UC Berkeley at 25. Just three years later, in 1964, he received UC Berkeley’s prestigious Distinguished Teaching Award.

He found purpose in a life of teaching and took enormous pride in advising his Ph.D. students, who went on to hold prestigious positions in academia, industry and government.

“I’m one of those many people whom Stanley touched,” said David Katz, one of his first advisees, now professor of biomedical engineering and obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University. “And it propagates forward, in what I do and what the people with whom I interact do.”

“He loved to make connections, bringing together colleagues who quickly became collaborators,” said Jennifer Stroud Rossman, another Ph.D. advisee, now associate professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. “I remember the poster on his door, ‘I want to be an engineer like my mom,’ so distinctive a message in the mechanical engineering building in the early 1990s that I felt warmly toward him before I ever met him.”

Among Berger’s prolific publications were his first book, Laminar Wakes (Elsevier, 1971), about the smooth airwaves left behind by jet engines, and the seminal textbook in his field, Introduction to Bioengineering (Oxford University Press, 1996), which he coedited.

Berger was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Academy of Mechanics, American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and the American Physical Society, which was holding its annual meeting the day he died.

“Word of Stan’s death began to percolate among the members at the meeting earlier today,” wrote Phil Marcus, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, in an email. “This was his society, both in a professional and a friendship sense. He served as chair and helped shape what it is now. When the news hit, people were taken aback and small knots of people gathered at corners of the meeting rooms and banquet hall to share memories about his accomplishments along with anecdotes about previous meetings with him. He will be missed and remembered for a long time in this group of scientists and friends.”

Berger is survived by his wife, Beth Fain, daughters Maya Berger and Shoshana Berger and two grandchildren, all of Berkeley, Calif.