The Passing of a Giant

October 15, 1998


FSU Provost Larry Abele conferred an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Sir James Lighthill (1924-1998).

B.A. Fusaro and M.Y. Hussaini

Twenty-five years ago, Sir James Lighthill became the first swimmer to complete the nine-mile circuit around the English Channel Island of Sark, 35 miles southwest of Cherbourg. He would repeat the feat five times, calling it "a most pleasant way to see the scenery." On July 17, he attempted it for the seventh time. He had almost completed the swim when he died.

Sir James Lighthill was 74 years old. He left this world the way he lived in it-engaged, persistent, zestful.

A limited survey of the honors and recognitions accorded to him would begin with his scholarship to Cambridge University at the age of 15. Named a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 29, he later received the society's Royal Medal, as well as the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, for his directorship of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. He held chaired professorships at Manchester University and Imperial College, as well as (Newton's) Lucasian Chair at Cambridge. Lighthill received 24 honorary degrees.

This remarkable man has left an indelible stamp on the applied mathematics and fluid dynamics communities. A sample of his accomplishments, in a remarkably wide range of fields, includes:

§ Pioneering work in aeronautics, astrophysics, and marine sciences.

§ Theoretical work on jet engines, in addition to practical work on supersonics that was critical to the design of the Concorde.

§ Creation of the field of biofluiddynamics and aeroacoustics. (His publications in this field include Mathematical Biofluiddynamics, CBMS-NSF Regional Conference Series in Applied Mathematics 17, SIAM, Philadelphia, 1973.)

Lighthill's legacy of research is available in four volumes published by the Oxford University Press, The Collected Works of Sir James Lighthill (edited by M.Y. Hussaini, 1997). The editor offers the 90 papers in these volumes ". . . as an example of scholarly scientific study, striving for a better understanding of the world we live in."

The International Symposium on Theoretical and Computational Fluid Mechanics held at Florida State University in November 1996 was a tribute to Lighthill's deep and wide-ranging contributions. The proceedings of this symposium were published by Springer-Verlag.

FSU Provost Larry Abele, himself a research biologist, had this to say: "Your typically insightful, lucid and comprehensive surveys of physiological fluid dynamics . . . have put the existing literature in proper perspective and provided insights into future avenues of research. Your work gives a new meaning to mathematical biology, too often misconceived as an esoteric science far removed from reality."

For one of us (MYH), Lighthill will be missed as a mentor and friend. The applied mathematics community will miss him as a paragon modeler of the 20th century. Most of all, this kind, modest, and gentle man will be missed by his mathematician wife, Nancy (née Dumanesq), and their son and four daughters.

B.A. Fusaro, professor emeritus at Salisbury State University in Maryland, is a visiting professor at Florida State University, Tallahassee. M.Y. Hussaini holds the Thinking Machines Eminent Scholar Chair in the computational science and engineering program at Florida State University.


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