Melvin W. First Memorial Symposium

Mel First Symposium and Celebration

Mel First in his office. Image courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine, HMS.

The Department of Environmental Health held a memorial symposium on Friday, September 30, 2011 to celebrate the life and professional accomplishments of Melvin W. First, Sc.D.

The symposium program is available to download here.

Mel First was a member of the HSPH community since becoming a research fellow here in 1947, and was actively involved in research and teaching until he passed away. Although he retired officially at age 70, he continued to work productively at Harvard for more than 25 years after that.

Mel liked to comment that although becoming an engineer at MIT and then a biologist at Harvard was a familiar path, he did the opposite. His first degree was an MIT biology degree; he then studied engineering at Harvard. After earning his doctorate from Harvard in the field of sanitary engineering in 1950, he became a research associate in what was then called the Department of Industrial Hygiene (now the Department of Environmental Health).  He moved up through the ranks over the next several years, ultimately becoming a Professor of Environmental Health Engineering in 1971.  He became an emeritus faculty member in 1985.

Mel First in his lab.

Mel’s career at HSPH has also been remarkable for the quality and innovation of his work.  Mel led the Harvard School of Public Health program in air cleaning for nearly four decades. He was recognized internationally for his research and field applications of filter theory, operation, and maintenance, and of nuclear air cleaning systems. Dr. First conducted nuclear air cleaning research since 1950. He was chairman of the biennial Department of Energy/Nuclear Regulatory Commission Air Cleaning Conferences for three decades. For the past two decades he was heavily involved with international air disinfection research aimed at controlling of pathogens such as drug resistant tuberculosis and influenza, and was co-founder of a unique continuing education summer course at HSPH to train engineers and architects from around the world in these methods.

He was the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Lyman A. Ripperton Award from the Air Pollution Control Association, and the Cummings Memorial Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association. He served on numerous important professional advisory board and committees, including the Chemical Weapons Destruction and Disposal Advisory Committee of the US Army Command; the National Academy of Sciences Submarine Air Quality Committee; and as a consultant to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In the news: An obituary has recently been published online on the American Industrial Hygiene Association website.