Gordon Newell

02 March 2001 |

Gordon Newell
Gordon Newell, professor emeritus in transportation engineering at Berkeley and a pioneer in the fields of transportation science and operations research, died Feb. 16, in an automobile accident near Carmel. He was 76.

Born in Ohio and raised in New York, Newell received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois in 1950. He joined the applied mathematics faculty at Brown University in 1953, then the civil engineering faculty at Berkeley in 1965. He later joined Berkeley’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research as well. He remained fully active after his retirement in 1991.

A theoretical physicist and applied mathematician, Newell made contributions to solid state physics and statistical mechanics in the 1950s, particularly in the areas of ferromagnetism and crystal behavior. While teaching at Brown University, he became interested in the dynamics of automobile traffic streams and wrote the first paper on traffic flow theory to appear in the operations research literature. At the same time, he developed statistical formulas for delays at traffic signals and later provided the first analytical solution for a more general class of traffic signal problems using diffusion approximations.

Newell established the relationship between the car-following and continuum theories of traffic flow dynamics, developed a comprehensive theory of traffic signal control, and showed how to solve the most fundamental equations of traffic dynamics for inhomogeneous freeways. His contributions are milestones that shaped the field of traffic flow theory.

His contributions to queuing theory are equally acclaimed. He introduced the idea of diffusion approximations in the 1960s and these methods are now regularly used to solve the most complicated queuing problems.

Newell was a charter member of the International Symposium on Transportation and Traffic Theory, and served as editor for SIAM and Transportation Science. The transportation science community honored Newell at the 12th symposium, held on the Berkeley campus in 1993, by dedicating the proceedings to him.

An avid ping-pong player, Newell played at noon in the McLaughlin Hall courtyard with his graduate students and colleagues every day. He became the namesake for the annual ping-pong tournament (Newell’s cup) in 1999.

He is survived by his wife Barbara Newell of Kensington; a daughter, Amy Pauly of Pleasanton and son-in-law Bruce; a son, Jeffrey Newell of Bangor, Maine, and daughter-in-law Lorri; four grandchildren, Dale, Claire, Stewart, and Aubrey; and a sister Ruth Holroyd of Rochester, New York.

A memorial is planned for 2 p.m., Sunday, March 11, at Alumni House. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Union College of Schenectady, New York, where Newell received his undergraduate degree in physics in 1945 (visit Union College on the Web at


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