Obituaries: Richard E. Meyer

April 12, 2008

Richard E. Meyer, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, passed away on Sunday, January 6.

Richard was born on March 23, 1919, in Berlin, Germany, and educated at the Collège Français (Berlin) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), where he received a doctorate in aeronautical engineering in 1946. His first appointment, as a junior scientific officer in the British Ministry of Aircraft Production (1945–46), was followed by positions at the University of Manchester (1946–52) and then a move to Australia, where he became a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Sydney (1953–57). In 1957 he left Australia for the U.S., becoming a professor of applied mathematics at Brown University and then, from 1964 to 1994, a professor of mathematics at Wisconsin; he was named professor emeritus in 1994. He was a member of the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Richard's early work on turbine aerodynamics marked the beginning of his sustained interest in supersonic aerodynamics, gas dynamics, and the theory of characteristics, to which he made many contributions. Responsible for a supersonic laboratory in Australia, he organized an integrated experimental and theoretical research team; in modern continuum mechanics, conversely, he found himself involved in studies of the relation between theory and experiment.

At Brown, he turned to mathematical problems in nonlinear hyperbolic and singular partial differential equations arising from gas dynamics. He also undertook studies of the nonlinear long wave theory of waves on beaches, which culminated in the discovery of the mechanism for the conversion of waves into run-up and backwash on the foreshore.

The mathematical theory of water waves was an ongoing research interest for Richard. He studied fundamental hydraulics and, with M.C. Shen and J.B. Keller, wave refraction and resonance offshore, using and extending short wave asymptotics to obtain notable advances in the three-dimensional theory of classical water waves with applications to coastal and shelf oceanography.

At Wisconsin, he contributed to the interdepartmental research program in plasma physics with studies in collisionless plasma shock structure and an elucidation of adiabatic invariance. These questions, in turn, involved him in a series of mathematical investigations, first on modern asymptotics and then on classical asymptotics and exponential precision. The resulting advances led him into reforms and extensions of turning point theory and short wave (WKB and ray) asymptotics. In his later years, his interests broadened to include quantum scattering, meteorology, and ecological fluid mechanics.

Apart from his research papers, Richard wrote a number of books, encyclopedia articles, and reviews intended to make recent advances in his research areas accessible to a wider scientific audience.

Richard had a vigorous non-mathematical life as well. His accomplishments as a mountaineer were recently the subject of an article by his daughter Michele that appeared in the United Airlines Hemispheres magazine (June 2007).

Richard was one of a kind, a rugged individualist who marched to no one's drum but his own. He will be missed especially by all his friends and colleagues at UW.---R. Wayne Dickey, Seymour Parter, Paul Rabinowitz, and Marshall Slemrod, Department of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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