Reflections on 40 Years in Mechanics
Albert E. Green, 1974
Thanks to the Society through the President for the presentation of the medal.
Thanks to Dick Shield.
There is one serious disadvantage to receiving the medal – the tradition that the recipient gives an acceptance talk.
Owing to the influence of men like Professor Timoshenko, work in applied mechanics in the U.S. has mostly been centred in engineering schools but sometimes in mathematics, applied mathematics departments or institutes. In Britain theoretical work in applied mechanics has mainly been in departments of mathematics and applied mathematics, but a few departments of engineering have also been concerned with such work. My own experience in Britain has been entirely in departments of mathematics in which there were close links with pure mathematicians. In the United States I have been fortunate to be associated with colleagues at Brown University and at Berkeley, as well as visiting other universities. Although I am in a department of mathematics, both pure and applied, at Oxford, my own title is Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy. The Sedleian Chair was founded by Sir William Sedley who by his Will dated October 20, 1618, bequeathed the sum of ₤2,000 to the University, to be laid out in the purchase of lands for its endowment; this bequest took effect in 1621. It is regarded as the oldest of the scientific Chairs even though the Savilian Professorships of Geometry and Astronomy were endowed in 1619, and the first of them actually filled in that year. My immediate predecessors were Professor George Temple, Professor Sydney Chapman and Professor A.E.H. Love, and you will be aware that they dealt with very different aspects of natural philosophy. Professor Love held the Chair for 41 years, from 1899, and his work is well known in the present company. The fourth holder of the Chair who was appointed in 1660 was Thomas Willis. A list of some of the treatises which he wrote makes interesting reading: (1) “Of the accession of the blood”; (2) “Of musculary motion”; (3) “Of urines”; (4) “The anatomy of the brain”; (5) “The description and use of the nerves”. He also wrote about convulsive diseases, scurvy, and the comparative anatomy of some dozen species ranging from the earthworm and lobster to sheep and man. He is regarded as the founder of neurology. In his last writings on rational therapeutics he presented a vast and sometimes horrific pharmacopoeia in which, however, are buried useful descriptions of the anatomy of the blood vessels, the muscular layers of the stomach, and the detailed structure of the lungs. Perhaps we can discern the beginnings of the present fashionable subject of biomechanics in the description of the probang, an ingenious machine for treating a very rare case of a certain man of Oxford who was probably suffering from stricture of the oesophagus.