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Oral History
Philip G. Saffman Oral History Interview with Shirley K. Cohen and Peter Neushul

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An interview in three sessions, December 1997 and April 1999, with Philip Geoffrey Saffman, Theodore von Kármán Professor of Applied Mathematics and Aeronautics, in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. Dr. Saffman received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Cambridge University and moved to Caltech in 1964 as a professor of fluid mechanics, becoming a professor of applied mathematics in 1970 and Von Kármán Professor in 1995. He died on August 17, 2008. He discusses his Jewish family’s background in the United Kingdom; growing up in Leeds; the family’s experiences in World War II. At Cambridge: studies fluid mechanics with George Batchelor (PhD 1956); postdoctoral work with G. I. Taylor; joins faculty as assistant lecturer, 1958. Moves to King’s College, London, 1960, to work with Hermann Bondi. Recalls first visit to Caltech, at JPL with Janos Laufer, 1963; impressions after joining faculty in 1964; genesis of applied mathematics at Caltech; collaboration with neighbor Max Delbrück; sabbaticals at MIT (1970-71 and 1982); operations of Caltech’s applied math dept. Comments on two of his children as Caltech undergraduates. Recalls some of his 37 graduate students, particularly Henry Yuen; Yuen’s career and invention of VCR Plus. Discusses his reasons for rejecting Cambridge’s offer of the Taylor chair; his fears that Caltech is losing out on best graduate students and faculty, in part because of tight money. In a supplemental interview in 1999, he reminisces about his Cambridge supervisors Batchelor and Taylor; describes his research on water waves and vortices; and further remarks on offer of Taylor chair at Cambridge.

ID: 1999-00310
Saffman, Philip G. (Applied Mathematician)

Creation Dec. 5, 1997 through Apr. 22, 1999

Topics: Aeronautics, Applied Mathematics

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