Record

Authorised form of nameLighthill; Sir; Michael James (1924 - 1998)
SurnameLighthill
ForenamesMichael James
Dates1924 - 1998
Dates and placesBirth:
23 January 1924
Death:
17 July 1998
ActivityMathematician
Education:
Winchester College and Trinity College Cambridge (1941-1943);
Career:
Worked on supersonic flight at the National Physical Laboratory Teddington (1943-1945); senior lecturer in mathematics (1945-50) and Beyer Professor of Applied Mathematics (1950-1959) at Manchester University; Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough (1959-1964); Royal Society Research Professor at Imperial College London (1964-1969); Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge (1969-1979); Provost of University College London (1979-1989).

Lighthill is acknowledged as one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth century. At Manchester he led powerful and inventive fluid dynamics group. He worked on gas dynamics, and also launched two new fields in fluid mechanics. The first of these was aeroacoustics or sound generated aerodynamically. It was announced in a paper published by the Royal Society in 1952 and had an immediate implication for noise reduction in jet aeroengines. The second was nonlinear acoustics, which Lighthill introduced in an article written in 1956 in honour of the seventieth birthday of G I Taylor. Its applications include kidney-stone-crushing lithotripsy machines and, with the same mathematics, flood waves in rivers and traffic flow on highways. At the Royal Aircraft Establishment Lighhill was responsible for the management of an organisation with 8,000 staff including 1,400 scientists and engineers. His detailed oversight included the critical examination of every report emanating from the Establishment. he worked on the aerodynamics of the delta wings for Concorde, on spacecraft, and on short-haul aircraft. In the early 1960s he forged links with the Post Office to develop the commercial use of television and communication satellites. At Imperial College London he began his development of mathematical biofluiddynamics: the quantitative understanding of the flow of blood in mammalian cardiovascular systems, of air in the human airways, and of the flying of birds and insects and the swimming of fish. At Cambridge he undertook major teaching commitments and expended still further his range of research interests: control systems, active control of sound, waves, oceanography and atmospheric dynamics, and on biological mechanics at the micrscopic level. At University College London he was involved in much fundraising, in new College developments especially in bilogy and biotechnology and in expanding the representation of women at senior levels; while continuing his scientific interests, the unpredictability of large systems, wave extraction devices, and the human auditory system.

In addition to the research and academic posts he held, Lighthill undertook many advisory and leadership roles in respect of public and professional bodies in Britain and internationally. He was the founder of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, serving as its first President (1965-1967) and was President of the Mathematical Association (1970) and President of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (1971-1974). The International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics was another major commitment and he served as President of the Union (1984-1988). After retirement he took up the Chairmanship of the International Council of Scientific Unions Special Committee on the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction.
Honours:
Kt 1971
Royal Society activityMembership:
Fellow
Election Date:
19/03/1953
Medals/Prizes:
Royal Medal 1964; Copley Medal 1998
Lectures:
Bakerian 1961; Humphry Davy 1991
Council:
1958-1959, 1965-1969; Sec 1965-1969; VP 1965-1969
RelationshipsMarried Nancy Dumaresq, had one son and four daughters.
SourcesObituaries:
Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 2001 vol 47 pp 333-356, plate, by T J Pedley FRS

Papers covering period 1940-2000 deposited in Special Collections, Library Services, University College London. Catalogue compiled by Peter Harper and Timothy Powell of the National Cataloguing Unit of the Archves of Contemporary Scientists, 'Catalogue of the papers and corresondence of Sir (Michael ) James Lighthill FRS (1924-1998)' reference NCUACS catalogue number 175/6/09 (2009)
Virtual International Authority Filehttp://viaf.org/viaf/8430889
Royal Society codeNA5064
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
IM/002749Lighthill, Sir Michael Jamesnd
JV/12/14/9Correspondence between Sir James Lighthill (Provost, UCL), Mr W W Slack (Dean, The Middlesex Hospital Medical School, London) and Sir John Vane2 - 23 July 1984
RR/69/207Letter from George Frederick Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. I. Symmetrical channels' by Michael James Lighthill to J D Griffith Davies, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society1 March 1947
RR/70/154Letter from David Christie Martin, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. II. Auxiliary theorems on the hypergeometric functions' by Michael James Lighthill to George Frederick James Temple9 May 1947
RR/69/206Letter from George Frederick Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. I. Symmetrical channels' by Michael James Lighthill to J D Griffith Davies, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society10 December 1946
RR/69/205Referee's report by George Frederick James Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. I. Symmetrical channels' by Michael James Lighthill10 November 1946
RR/70/155Letter from George Frederick James Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. II. Auxiliary theorems on the hypergeometric functions' by Michael James Lighthill to David Christie Martin, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society20 May 1947
RR/70/157Referee's report by George Frederick James Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. III. Flow round a body' by Michael James Lighthill1947
RR/70/156Referee's report by George Frederick James Temple, on a paper 'The hodograph transformation in trans-sonic flow. II. Auxiliary theorems on the hypergeometric functions' by Michael James Lighthill1947
RR/71/179Referee's report by William George Penney, Baron Penney of East Hendred, on a paper 'The diffraction of blast. I' by Michael James Lighthill[1948]
EC/1953/16Lighthill, Sir Michael James: certificate of election to the Royal Society
HWT/24/6/25Correspondence regarding exchanges and joint research projects including British proposal for collaboration in computer application to fluid flowMarch - April 1971
HWT/25/9Correspondence with Chinese officials, British scientists and Leverhulme Trust regarding renewal of exchanges suspended in 1966March - November 1971
WF/354Grant application from The Mathematical Association to the Wolfson Foundation1971-1975
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