Ascher Shapiro was a leading mechanical and biomedical engineer who studied and taught at the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Shapiro was born in New York City in 1916. He grew up in Brooklyn and then attended MIT, where he got his bachelors in 1938 and his doctorate degree in 1946, both in Mechanical Engineering. While pursuing his graduate education at MIT, he simultaneously worked as a laboratory assistant and teaching Instructor and became an assistant professor at the department of Mechanical Engineering in 1943, even before he got his Sc.D. degree. At the same time, he was also doing research in a U.S. Navy laboratory. This was the time of the Second World War and Shapiro directed a project on the development of turbine propulsion engines for torpedoes dropped from aircraft. At MIT, he became an associate professor in 1947 and a full professor in 1952.
Shapiro’s initial research was mainly focused on power production, turbo-machinery, high-speed flight and jet propulsion. He was a member of the Lexington Project that helped in the evaluation of nuclear-powered aircraft. He was also a Director of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Project Dynamo, which conducted research on the use of nuclear energy as a potential source for generating electricity for civilian purposes. The main area of Shapiro’s teaching interest at MIT was fluid dynamics. In 1961, Shapiro founded the National Committee for Fluid Mechanics Films (NCFMF) in collaboration with the Education Development Centre and produced a series of 39 videos and accompanying texts. These lecture-films revolutionized the teaching of fluid mechanics and are watched online by university students even today.
From the 1960s, Shapiro became increasingly interested in bioengineering, which was a newly emerging field. He was interested in fluid flows in the human body. He worked closely with many leading hospitals and medical schools, especially with the physicians and surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He put his knowledge of fluid dynamics and mechanical engineering to use in the treatment of blood clots, asthma, emphysema and glaucoma. He also developed the intra-aortic balloon for patients with heart conditions, which is a less invasive technique in treating cardiovascular problems.
Shapiro held 13 patents, published 130 technical articles and wrote a number of books, including the Dynamics and Thermodynamics of Compressible Fluid Flow and the Shape and Flow: The Fluid Dynamics of Drag, both considered classics. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1952, the National Academy of Science in 1967 and the National Academy of Engineering in 1974. He was awarded several prestigious awards by the American Society of Engineering Education and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, among others. The Ascher H. Shapiro Lecture Series in Fluid Mechanics was launched at MIT since 1992 in his honor. Shapiro died in Boston in 2004.