Michael M. Carroll, the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University, and former dean of its George R. Brown School of Engineering, died on Jan. 17 at age 79.
A wryly witty native of Ireland remembered as much for his kindness as for his research prowess and administrative flair, Carroll was an award-winning playwright, poet and creator of crossword puzzles published in The New York Times.
“Michael was truly a ‘Renaissance man,’ having many more dimensions than any other academic I have known. Mike was an academic, an Irishman, an engineer, a mathematician, a golfer, a poet, a playwright, a crossword puzzle creator, a jokester, an appreciator of fine single-malt Irish whiskey and a lover of his family,” said Sid Burrus, the Maxfield Oshman Professor Emeritus, research professor in electrical and computer engineering and former dean of engineering.
Carroll was born in 1936 in Thurles, a town 90 miles southwest of Dublin, on Dec. 8, 1936, and grew up speaking English and Gaelic. He earned his B.A. and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from University College, Galway in 1958 and 1959, respectively. Carroll came to the U.S. in 1960 and became a naturalized citizen in 1970. He earned his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1965. At Brown, Carroll studied under Ronald Rivlin, the pre-eminent authority in non-linear elasticity and non-Newtonian fluids.
In 1965, Carroll joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Berkeley as an assistant professor. He became a full professor in 1975 and held the title of Shell Distinguished Chair from 1983 to 1988. Carroll became a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1984 and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1987.
In 1988 he became dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, with faculty appointments in mechanical engineering and materials science, and computational and applied mathematics. Neal Lane, the Malcolm Gillis University Professor and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and a senior fellow in the Baker Institute, was provost when Carroll was recruited as engineering dean at Rice:
“It was not easy to bring Michael to Rice. He was a distinguished member of the faculty at Berkeley, a world-class research university that considered itself well above Rice in stature. Many of his colleagues were surprised when he decided to leave. Michael brought his intelligence, prestige, Irish wit and legendary good nature to the position of dean.”
Lane continued: “As dean, he recruited excellent faculty, built strong outside support for the school, brought recognition to his faculty, including elections to the National Academy of Engineering, and in many other ways promoted and strengthened engineering at Rice. Without question, he left his positive mark on the school and the university.”
Carroll spearheaded the establishment of a new department in the engineering school, bioengineering, in 1997. During his 10 years as dean, the engineering faculty grew from 74 to 92, and the proportion of female engineering undergraduates rose from 17 percent to 30 percent. Carroll authored more than 100 academic papers in such fields as finite elasticity, porous media, non-linear optics, electromagnetism, acoustics and the mechanics of sports. He also wrote two plays, both of which were staged.
“His leadership style,” Burrus said, “was to enable his faculty’s visions rather than imposing his visions on the faculty. That style served him and Rice very well. He touched us in many, many ways and we will all miss him greatly.”
In 1999, Carroll became a member of the NCAA Scientific Panel on Baseball, organized to investigate the impact of high-performance metal bats on collegiate baseball. The panel’s recommendations led to the adoption of the Ball Exit Speed Ratio bat certification process, assuring that metal bats were no more effective than wooden bats.
In honor of his 75th birthday in 2011, three consecutive monthly issues of the journal Mathematics and Mechanics of Solids were dedicated to Carroll. Published in the July, August and September issues were 25 papers written by 42 scholars in Carroll’s academic field, continuum mechanics, with an emphasis on finite elasticity. The issues were guest-edited by James Casey, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who first met Carroll at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1971.
In his preface, Casey writes that Carroll is “universally loved and admired by friends and colleagues, and by the students and staff,” and continues:
“He is a joy to be with, whether in the classroom, at the café, on the golf course, or around the dinner table. His friendship is cherished by those who are close to him. His advice on difficult decisions is often sought, where in addition to the power of his reason and the depth of his wisdom, one can always depend on his sublime sense of fairness and justice.”
Casey writes: “Occasionally during a lecture, he would stand back from the blackboard and remark on the elegance of a theory or the beauty of a solution. He deeply appreciates the aesthetics of applied mathematics.”
Also in 2011, The Irish Voice, an Irish-American newspaper based in New York City, named Carroll to its third annual “Irish Education 100” list of “the leading figures in education across the USA.” In 2004-2005, Carroll was president of the Houston Philosophical Society, and he served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science from 2003 to 2005.
Carroll is survived by his wife, the former Carolyn Gahagan, whom he married in 1964, their children, Patricia and Timothy, and three grandchildren.
“Carolyn says Michael died peacefully, and retained his good sense of humor and the sparkle in his eye, until the end. There will be a small family funeral and sometime in the future, a memorial,” Casey said.