Celebrating the Legacy of Frank M. White

Frank White chalkboard
Frank M. White at the University of Rhode Island circa 1988 (age 55). (Courtesy of the URI library archives)

By Neil Nachbar

The Frank M. White Legacy Panel was unveiled at a special ceremony in the Hermann Viets Conference Room in URI’s Bliss Hall on Nov. 17, honoring the former engineering professor’s legacy.

White joined the faculty at URI in 1964 as an associate professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics. He developed an interest in solving oceanographic and coastal flow problems and, in 1966, he and Foster Middleton co-founded the first Department of Ocean Engineering in the United States.

Frank White in lab
In 1971, with students and associates in URI’s Computer Satellite Console Lab (age 38). (Courtesy of the URI library archives)

White was promoted to full professor in 1967, only eight years after receiving his doctorate. He devoted his spare time writing two textbooks, Viscous Fluid Flow and Fluid Mechanics. Published in 1973 and 1979 respectively, the books garnered a following for more than 50 years, inspiring generations of students, faculty members, and scholars all over the world.

A couple of months before the legacy panel was unveiled, White’s impact on the scientific community was represented in a collection of testimonials, some of which were published in the journal Physics of Fluids.

In the journal tribute, URI Simon Ostrach Professor Arun Shukla, who was a fellow engineering faculty member of White’s from 1981-1997, had this to say about his former colleague:

“Frank had high standards and he was always praised by his students for his exceptional teaching and guidance. I have personally interacted with several of his graduate students, many of whom have occupied high-ranking positions with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center; these individuals have all expressed tremendous gratitude for Frank’s mentorship and guidance during their graduate studies and beyond. Frank is a true gentleman and a scholar, and I miss seeing him in the department.”

On December 21, 1997, White retired from URI after 34 years of service. He passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 12, 2022, at the age of 88.