Top honour for Professor Keith Moffatt

4 May 2008

A Cambridge mathematician’s outstanding contribution to the study of fluid dynamics has been recognised by a leading scientific society.

The US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has elected Keith Moffatt, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Physics and Fellow of Trinity College, to its membership for his excellence in original scientific research.

Professor Moffatt's work has focused mainly on magnetohydrodynamics, the study of the motion of electrically conducting fluids, and on the theory of turbulence, widely recognised as the most challenging unsolved problem of classical physics. He has published widely in these areas, and is perhaps best known for his influential monograph on the generation of large-scale magnetic fields by fluid motion in planets, stars and galaxies.

He is also well-known for his discovery in 1964 of what have come to be known as "Moffatt eddies", the eddies that typically form in "creeping flow" in any corner of angle less than approximately 147 degrees.

Professor Moffatt was educated at Edinburgh and at Cambridge, where he took his PhD in 1962, and has since had a long association with the University. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a lecturer in the Mathematics Faculty, and from 1970-76 a Tutor and Senior Tutor at Trinity College.

After a period as Professor of Applied Mathematics at Bristol, he returned to Cambridge in 1980 as Chair of Mathematical Physics, Head of DAMTP from 1983 to 1991, and Director of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences from 1996 to 2001. He has also worked as an editor of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics and has served as President of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.

His election, one of the US's highest honours for scientists and engineers, is the latest in a long string of distinctions for Professor Moffatt: he is a member of five national and international scientific societies, including the Royal Society and the French Académie des Sciences, and has won several prizes, including the London Mathematical Society's Senior Whitehead Prize, and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal, whose other recipients include Alexander Graham Bell, Enrico Fermi and J.J. Thompson.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furthering of science and technology and to their use for general welfare.

Established in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences has served to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government. Notable members have included Einstein, Oppenheimer and Edison, and more than 180 of its living members have won Nobel Prizes.

The new members will be inducted formally into the Academy at its 146th annual meeting in Washington DC next April.