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Walter A. Rosenblith

Institute Professor Emeritus and former Provost Walter A. Rosenblith, died Wednesday of complications resulting from prostate cancer. He was 88 years old.

Rosenblith was one of the first to use computers and mathematical models to study the brain as a biophysical information handling system. He helped found the Program in Science, Technology and Society, and later joined the STS faculty.

He came to MIT in 1951 as an associate professor in Course VI, then known as the Department of Electrical Engineering. By 1975 he was named an institute professor, and served as chair of the faculty from 1967 to 1969.

Rosenblith provost in 1970s

Rosenblith served as provost from 1971 to 1980, working to develop MIT’s programs in health sciences and biomedical engineering and developing collaborations with other universities and medical institutions.

Howard W. Johnson, president from 1966 to 1971, said, “Walter Rosenblith was a noble academic whose enthusiastic participation for 50 years in MIT life as institute professor, faculty chair, provost, and, most of all as a rare human being will leave an indelible mark on the Institute.”

Career began in Europe

Born in Vienna, Austria on Sept. 21, 1913, Rosenblith studied in Vienna, Berlin, Lausanne, Paris and Bordeaux. He came to the United States in 1939, but the start of World War II prevented his return to France. He conducted research and taught physics at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

His acoustics research led him to Harvard University in 1947, where he became a research fellow in the Psychoacoustic Laboratory. He became increasingly interested in psychophysics and neurophysiology, and his research in hearing helped lead to the the formation of the Eaton Peabody Laboratory for Auditory Physiology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Rosenblith taught worldwide

Throughout his career, Rosenblith lectured around the world. He served as Inaugural Lecturer at India’s Tata Institute for Fundamental Research and Weizmann Lecturer at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, in 1962. He served as a visiting professor at the Technical University, Berlin, over the summers of 1965 and 1966, and at the Institute of Biophysics, University of Rio de Janeiro in 1971, 1973 and 1976. He later taught in China in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rosenblith was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the World Academy of Arts and Science.

He is survived by his wife, daughter, son, brother, grandson, and two granddaughters. Donations in his name may be made to MIT for the Wiesner book project or to the Union of Concerned Scientists. A memorial service will be scheduled at MIT.