Person: Michell, John Henry
John Henry Michell was an Australian mathematician, who made important contributions to the fields of hydrodynamics and elasticity.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- John Michell was born on 11 December 1825 in Marytavy, Devon, England and Grace Rowse was born on 26 October 1828 in Kenwyn, Cornwall, England.
- invented the Michell Thrust Bearing, a tilting-pad device which made possible much of the modern development of steam and water turbines and of propeller drives for large fast ships.
- It was in Maldon that John Michell attended elementary schools and, since he showed great promise, his parents moved from Maldon to the suburbs of Melbourne in 1877 so that he could attend Wesley College there.
- This school had opened in 1866 and, two years before Michell entered, the school colours had been changed to light blue and white to match both Cambridge University and the University of Melbourne.
- Henry Martyn Andrew (1845-1888) had become the third headmaster of the school in 1876 and, a few years earlier in 1872, he had been a Wrangler in the mathematics tripos at Cambridge.
- Andrew, described as "a severe but inspiring teacher" certainly seems to have inspired Michell who came top in all the mathematics classes and was awarded the Draper and Walter Powell scholarships at Wesley College.
- Michell graduated from Wesley College in 1881 and, in that year, entered the University of Melbourne.
- However, at this time there was only one mathematician on the faculty at the University of Melbourne, namely Edward John Nanson (1850-1936), who had been Second Wrangler in the mathematical tripos at Cambridge in 1873.
- Michell graduated with a B.A. in 1884 and he was strongly encouraged by both Nanson and Andrew, who was by this time professor of natural philosophy at the University of Melbourne, to continue with his mathematical studies at the University of Cambridge.
- This would, of course, put severe financial pressure on Michell's parents but they were quite prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
- On 10 October 1884 Michell was admitted as a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge.
- His coach for the mathematical tripos was the famous Edward Routh and he attended lectures by Andrew Forsyth, Joseph Larmor, Joseph John Thomson (the Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics, and later the discoverer of the electron), and George Stokes.
- The only other Smith's prizeman in that year was Henry Baker.
- In 1890, still at Cambridge, Michell was elected to a Fellowship at Trinity College.
- Soon after accepting the Trinity fellowship, Michell was offered a lectureship at the University of Melbourne.
- When Michell became a lecturer at Melbourne he became a colleague of Nanson, his former professor.
- During the first years as a lecturer in Melbourne, Michell published eighteen papers in addition to the five he published in 1890.
- The paper reads like a modern research article, apart from the lack of partial derivative notation, which Michell wanted but did not get from the printers.
- Hence viscosity is neglected, this being justified by arguments pioneered by Froude for separating wave and viscous drag, but in Michell's own introductory words by boundary-layer-like arguments that could be said to anticipate Prandtl's by a decade or more.
- Michell gives no indication that he has seen any of Joukowski's work, and it hardly seems likely in view of his geographical isolation that he had done so.
- As we mentioned above, Michell published 18 papers between 1892 and 1902.
- There seems no possibility that we will ever know the answer, but it is certain that the world of mathematics would have benefited greatly from another 30 years of Michell's research publications.
- In 1923 Nanson retired and Michell became Professor of Pure and Mixed Mathematics at Melbourne.
- Other than mathematics, Michell's interests were music, reading and, as we noted above, gardening.
- Michell retired in 1929, becoming an Honorary Research Professor, and continued to live at Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia where, after a short illness, he died in 1940.
- Today, Michell is probably best remembered by the J H Michell Medal which is awarded annually (if there is a candidate of sufficient merit) by the Australian and New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics which is a Division of the Australian Mathematical Society.
Born 26 October 1863, Maldon, Victoria, Australia. Died 3 February 1940, Camberwell, Victoria, Australia.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive