Upon obtaining a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree from City College of New York in 1944 when he was barely over 19, he became an aeronautical research scientist at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, forerunner to National Aeronautics and Space Administration) at Langley Field, Virginia. He took an educational leave from National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to enroll in 1947 in the graduate program in Applied Mathematics at Brown University, completing his Doctor of Philosophy in 1950 with a dissertation entitled Fundamental Theorems and Consequences of the Slip Theory of Plasticity.
He returned to Langley in 1950 and, in 1952, was appointed Head of the Structural Mechanics Branch. He joined the faculty of Harvard in 1955. He made widely cited contributions on the way that fissures and joints in rocks affect the propagation of seismic waves, which has become a standard basis for inferring rock properties in the Earth, and contributed to understanding stressing and deformation in the inflation of the human lung.
His work of the later years was focused on problems in the domain of materials science, explaining mechanical properties of solids in terms of microscopic mechanisms.
He referred to this important area as "micromechanics". He was one of its pioneers, and contributed to explanation of the fracture of ductile metals and the toughening of normally brittle ceramics and composite materials.
He received honorary doctorates from Northwestern University 1986 and Technion Israel Institute of Technology. Professional affiliations included: American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and American Geophysical Union. Bernard Budiansky died January 23, 1999, at his home in Lexington, Massachusetts, aged 73.
Fellow American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (associate editor Journal 1963-1966), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (Timoshenko medal 1989). Member National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Engineering, American Academy Arts and Sciences, Royal Netherlands Academy Arts and Sciences (foreign), Danish Center for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (foreign member), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (medal 1997), American Society of Civil Engineers (von Karman medal 1982), American Geophysical Union, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi.
Married Nancy Cromer, December 21, 1952. Children: Michael, Stephen.