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Murphy, Glenn

Published onOct 11, 2021
Murphy, Glenn

(January 17, 1908 - April 3, 1978)

Quick Facts

Glenn Murphy headed three different departments in the College of Engineering during his four decades at the university with research in nuclear and atomic science.

Glenn Murphy was a longtime professor in the College of Engineering at Iowa State University and served with distinction during a career that spanned over four decades. He holds the distinction of heading three different departments in the College of Engineering over the course of his career at Iowa State. Murphy was also a prolific writer and was dedicated to enhancing the quality of engineering education at Iowa State and throughout the world.

Murphy was born in Boulder, Colorado, on January 17, 1908. He received his secondary education at the University of Colorado where he earned BS (1929) and MS (1930) degrees in Civil Engineering. He followed that up with graduate studies at the University of Illinois where he received another MS (1932) degree in Civil Engineering. He completed his PhD.(1935) in structural engineering at Iowa State College (now University) and later received the degree of Civil Engineer (1937) from the University of Colorado.

Iowa State offered Murphy the position of instructor in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in 1932. By 1941, Murphy was promoted to full professorship. He was assigned to the position of Senior Engineer (1948-1963) at the Institute for Atomic Research, a federally funded research program housed at Iowa State and now known as the Ames Laboratory. Murphy was named Head (1952-1955) of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering (now Aerospace Engineering) and then Head (1955-1960) of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. During this period, he also served as Chairman (1952-1959) of the Nuclear Engineering Administrative Committee—a group of faculty that oversaw the graduate curriculum in nuclear engineering at Iowa State. Murphy was appropriately named the first Head (1960-1973) of the Department of Nuclear Engineering when it was established on July 1, 1960.

In addition to his responsibilities as an administrator at Iowa State, Murphy was also a dedicated educator and researcher. He conducted research in a variety of fields including fluid dynamics, stress analysis, properties of materials, and nuclear reactor dynamics and shielding. This research resulted in over 100 articles published in scientific journals. However, some of his most significant work was in engineering education where he excelled as both teacher and author. He served as major professor for 238 graduate students and of these at least nine went on to become deans of engineering schools. During World War II, Murphy helped organize the Curtiss-Wright Cadettes program at a number of engineering schools to help train women to become engineering assistants for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. He was a pioneer in establishing curricula in nuclear engineering with Iowa State’s being among the first. He was also the author of more than a dozen college textbooks covering engineering topics such as mechanics of materials, fluid dynamics, properties of materials, similitude in engineering, and nuclear engineering. A number of these became the standard text used in college courses.

Although Murphy was extremely devoted to his administrative and teaching duties at Iowa State, he still found time to assist other professional organizations. For instance, Murphy was a valuable member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), serving for over 30 years in a variety of capacities. In 1951, he received the Society’s George Westinghouse Award, recognizing him as the country’s outstanding young engineering teacher for that year. He served on numerous committees, including the Committee on Evaluation of Engineering Education chaired by Linton E. Grinter. Murphy represented ASEE on the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development, the organization responsible for accrediting engineering curricula. Murphy served two terms as Vice President of ASEE and one term as President (1962-1963). He also served on the ASEE Board of Directors for eight years. In 1970, he was named an Honorary Member of ASEE and received one of the Society’s highest recognitions, the Benjamin Garver Lamme Award, in 1972.

Murphy also served government and industry as an engineering consultant and lecturer. Some of the organizations he consulted for include the Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Army Office of Ordnance Research, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation, and the Tuskegee Institute (University). Murphy was proficient in ten languages and traveled to conferences around the world. He served as a special lecturer to the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the National Tsing Hua University of Taiwan, and the French Atomic Energy Commission at Saclay. Murphy was the official U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency conference on nuclear engineering education held in Paris in 1959.

Iowa State recognized Murphy as a valuable member of the faculty and other organizations also honored his many accomplishments. When the rank of Distinguished Professor was established at Iowa State in 1956, Murphy was among of the first group of five faculty members to receive the recognition and became the first Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering. The ISU Alumni Association awarded him its Faculty Citation in 1968 and the Iowa State University College of Engineering established the Glenn Murphy Professorship of Engineering in 1985. The Iowa Engineering Society granted him its Distinguished Service Award in 1963 and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1973. In recognition of Murphy’s early leadership in planning and developing of programs in nuclear engineering, the Nuclear Engineering Division of the American Society for Engineering Education established the Glenn Murphy Award in 1976.

It is difficult to briefly encapsulate the accomplishments of a man who was as professionally active as Murphy. Yet, more often than not, those writing about him come back to Murphy’s rigorous and thorough teaching style. He was not a proponent of the lecture style of teaching, but instead preferred to engage his students in discussions. He enjoyed seeing their development and tried to get them to participate as fully as possible in the classroom. Murphy died suddenly in 1978 after returning from a trip to Tokyo, Japan, and was preceded in death by his wife, the former Frances Pearce of Los Angeles. The couple had no children.

Selected Sources

Glenn Murphy Papers, RS 11/11/11, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Murphy, Glenn (1953) "An Atomic Future," The Iowa Homemaker: Vol. 33 : No. 3, Article 6. Available at:

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