Robert Herman

August 29, 1914 – February 13, 1997

Brief Biography

Herman Award Portrait

Born in the Bronx, Robert Herman was the undisputed father of transportation science, having been responsible for the initial working on modeling traffic systems. Herman studied physics at the City College of New York and received graduate degrees in the subject from Princeton University in 1940. At the start of World War II he joined the Carnegie Institute of Washington D.C. and the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University to aid the war effort. Herman worked on a wide range of problems including the proximity fuse for naval antiaircraft gunfire, field testing, and various operational problems associated with the US fleet.

After the war, Herman led a successful career as a physicist, remaining at the Applied Physics Lab for another decade. He and cosmologist Ralph A. Alpher made significant strides in the theory of blackbody radiation and the Big Bang. The pair received the Henry Draper Medal for these contributions in 1993.

In 1956, Herman joined the General Motors Research Laboratory as head of the basic science group. He brought scientific thought to his employer with the establishment of traffic science. Herman became part of a group of traffic researchers that included Robert E. Chandler, Denos Gazis, Elliott W. Montroll, Refrey B. Potts, and Richard W. Rohtery. The six men wrote a trio of articles for Operations Research on the subject of traffic dynamics and traffic flow. The three papers were awarded the 1959 Frederick W. Lanchester Prize for best publication in operations research from that year. They were lauded for the representation of “a fruitful application of a rich body of mathematical theory persuasively supported by experimental and computational evidence.” Herman was the only person to have co-authored all three papers. That year’s award set a precedent for the prize selection Committee to encourage the publication of series of papers reporting to a single research agenda as it progresses.

After twenty-three years at GM, Herman joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin as a joint professor of physics, civil engineering, and statistical mechanics. He became the twenty-ninth president of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) in 1980. As ORSA president and a practitioner of OR, Herman challenged the society to continue redefining its mission to address new, important societal problems rather than simply refining solutions to old ones.

Herman received numerous honors for his life’s work and dedication. In addition to the Lanchester Prize and the Draper Medal, he was presented with the George E. Kimball Medal and John von Neumann Theory Prize by ORSA. Herman was described as the founder of traffic science by the society and celebrated for a career spanning over six decades. The Transportation Science Society named its lifetime achievement award after him. Herman was additionally an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

An admirer of classical philosophy and the arts, Herman developed a passion for studying the physics of musical instruments. Later in life, he began carving sculptures that attempted to creatively display the relationship between physical matter and imagination. A collection of his works was presented at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington. Herman succumbed to cancer and passed away in February 1997. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Robert Herman

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Robert Herman. Accessed June 15, 2015. (link)

INFORMS Community Prizes and Awards. Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award: Who was Robert Herman?. Accessed June 15, 2015. (link


City College of New York, BS 1935

Princeton University, MS & PhD 1940


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations
  • Carnegie Institution 

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Robert Herman (1983) Interview by Martin Harwit. April 11. Transcript. Schenectady, New York. American Institute of Physics. (transcript


American Astronomical Society. Obituaries: Robert Herman (1914-1997). Accessed June 15, 2015. (link)

Gazis D. C. (1997) In memoriam: Robert Herman. OR/MS Today, 24(2). (link)

New York Times (1997) Robert Herman, 82, Physicist Who Predicted Big Bang Echo. February 22. (link)

University of Texas at Austin Office of the General Faculty & Faculty Council. Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches: Robert Herman. Accessed June 15, 2015. (link)

Awards and Honors

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize 1959 

George E. Kimball Medal 1976

National Academy of Engineering 1978

American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1979

Philip McCord Morse Lectureship Award 1989

Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award 1990

Henry Draper Medal 1993

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1993

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1980

Selected Publications

Chandler R. E., Herman R., & Montroll E. W. (1958) Traffic dynamics: studies in car following. Operations Research, 6(2): 165-184.

Gazis D. C., Herman R., & Potts R. B. (1959) Car-following theory of steady-state traffic flow. Operations Research, 7(4): 499-505.

Herman R., Montroll E. W., Potts R. B., & Rohtery R. W. (1959) Traffic dynamics: analysis of stability in car following. Operations Research, 7(1): 86-106.

Herman R., ed. (1961) Proceedings of the First International Symposium on the Theory of Traffic Flow.  Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: Paris.

Herman R. & Weiss G. (1961) Comments on the highway-crossing problem. Operations Research, 9(6): 828-840.

Herman R. & Prigogine I. (1971) Kinetic Theory of Vehicular Traffic. American Elsevier: New York. 

Ardekani S. A. & Herman R. (1984) Characterizing traffic conditions in urban areas. Transportation Science, 18(2): 101-140.

Ardekani S. A. & Herman R. (1985) The influence of stops on vehicl fuel consumption in urban traffic. Transportation Science, 19(1): 1-12.

Herman R. (1992) Technology, human interaction, and complexity: reflections on vehicular traffic science. Operations Research, 40(2): 199-212.

Additional Resources

Ardekani S. A. & Mahmassani H. S. (1997) Tributes to Robert Herman. Transportation Science, 31(2): 101-103. (link)