COMMENT ON SIR JAMES LIGHTHILL
Sir James Lighthill F.R.S., founder President of the Institute for
Mathematics and its Applications, was one of the scientists who were
interviewed by Louis Wolpert, for his BBC Radio series "Passionate
Minds", published by OUP in 1997. Here is a passage from that
interview, on pages 62-63:
Wolpert: `Now most of your work has been in fluids. Is there
something about fluids that appeals to you?'
Sir James: Aha, yes, I think so! I have a sort of general pleasurable feel about
fluids and, of course, I'm very interested in flight, and although I
worked entirely on aeronautical flight in those days, I subsequently
did very comprehensive studies of animal flight - birds, bats and
insects - during my later period in Cambridge, working with the
zoology department there. And my hobby is swimming; I have a great
deal of interest in the ocean - ocean waves, ocean currents, ocean
tides - and so I enjoy observing all that when I swim. And then I have
a fellow feeling for the swimming animals, and I've written papers
about almost all varieties of swimming fishes and invertebrates, and
quite a lot of work on micro-organism locomotion.
Wolpert: `Part of your passion for fluids is swimming?'
Sir James: Yes, indeed.
Wolpert: `Do you swim a lot?'
Sir James: Yes, I do a three-mile swim every weekend just to keep fit.
Wolpert: `And in the holidays?'
Sir James: In the holidays I always do each year an adventure swim, which I do,
partly because it's good for all of us to have an adventure every so
often, but partly because when I was at Farnborough I was working with
test pilots, and I was conscious that they were actually depending on
the scientific work that was done; they staked their lives on the
correctness of the science. I've done a lot of work on ocean waves and
tides and currents, and I feel I understand them well enough to be
quite prepared to swim in them, because with my theoretical knowledge,
supplemented by an immense amount of experience in swimming in these
conditions, I can swim safely; and have an exciting adventure in the
process. So I do this, usually choosing swims where there are quite
difficult currents to deal with. Sometimes one swims around islands,
sometimes one swims between one island and another.
Wolpert: `Like what?'
Sir James: Well one of my famous swims is the one around Sark which I've done
five times, and one of them was during a south-westerly gale which was
the one that actually caused the Fastnet disaster. So one needed quite
a lot of nerve and stamina to complete the swim on that day, but it
really was rather an exciting experience. But I've swum between two of
the Azores which have quite a strong current between them. I've swum
around an actively erupting volcano, namely Stromboli, and watched
eleven separate eruptions from the side where you can see the volcano,
where incidentally, the water is the temperature of a hot bath because
that's the side the lava comes into the sea. And I've swum around
Lundy, and my most recent swim was round Ramsay island where there are
exceptionally strong currents off the southwest coast of Pembrokeshire.
Wolpert: `Do you actually use your knowledge of waves and tides in
order to do it?'
Sir James: Oh, enormously, yes. I mean during this Fastnet swim I was constantly
having to add up vectorially my swimming velocity and the current
velocity, and the wave drift due to these very powerful waves. It was
rather interesting. I was really having to swim at right angles to the
direction I wanted to go in, which you often have to do, of course.
Wolpert: `I don't think many of us [laughter] would recognize that.'
Sir James: And, of course, you meet seals and all sorts of interesting animals
who have a fellow feeling with swimmers when you do these swims.
Wolpert: `It's very nice applied mathematics I must say. [Laughter].'
Garry J. Tee, FIMA,
Department of Mathematics, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
School of Mathematics, University of Bristol, England.