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Batchelor, George Keith (1920-2000), fluid dynamicist
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Of Scottish stock, Batchelor was born in Australia and spent much of his early life in the Melbourne area, attending Essendon High School, Melbourne High School and Melbourne University, from which he graduated with a degree in mathematics and physics in 1940. His projected journey to England to study for a PhD was prevented by the War so he worked in the division of aeronautics of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, where he first seriously developed an interest in turbulence.
With the support of G I Taylor, the great British expert on turbulence, he set off for England by boat in 1945 with his wife of one year Wilma (neé Rätz), and after pursuing possibilities elsewhere in Cambridge was accepted as a research student at Trinity College.. His early promise was realised when he brought to a wider audience the ideas of A N Kolmogorov on turbulence, presenting his interpretation in Paris in 1946, and primarily on the back of this research he won a college Fellowship in 1947. For the next decade and a half Batchelor produced a series of important articles on turbulence until he concluded at the Marseilles symposium of 1961 that the subject had reached an impasse. He then turned his talents to micro-hydrodynamics, a field in which he made equally important contributions. For Batchelor research was a way of life and a source of
Batchelor’s research papers would have been enough to cement his position in the field of fluid dynamics. However, in a number of other ways he succeeded in moulding his chosen subject. He was a leading figure in bringing greater structure to the Mathematics Faculty in Cambridge which resulted in 1959 in the establishment of a Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics and a Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Batchelor became head of the latter, a position he held until 1983. From here he was able to influence important decisions in how applied mathematics was taught in Cambridge, but not without allowing his colleagues in the department to thoroughly debate matters. Another way in which he shaped his subject was in the establishment of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics. Until the appearance of this journal in 1956 articles on the subject were spread throughout journals in a number of disciplines. JFM gave fluid dynamicists not only a journal devoted to their subject but one of high quality. Again it was Batchelor who helped drive the project as an editor, developing a rigorous process to ensure each article he oversaw was as accurate and polished as possible.
Batchelor was a great believer in the international community of scientists and from the early days of his academic career he travelled widely to conferences at many of which he spoke. He also was an enthusiastic member of a number of international bodies such as the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM) and he established the European Mechanics Committee (Euromech) which ran a number of colloquia each year. This he chaired between 1964 and 1987.
Batchelor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1996 and after Wilma died late in the following year he moved from Cobbers, his home on Conduit Head Road whose design he had overseen with characteristic care, to rooms in Trinity. He died in 2000.
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography