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Mechanics Genealogy

Zhigang Suo's picture

Leonhard Euler has 5 students and 56,850 academic descendents.  They are all listed by the Mathematics Genealogy Project.  Euler himself was a student of Johann Bernoulli, and produced a student named Joseph Louis Lagrange, who in turn produced Fourier and Poisson.  No wonder Euler has so many descendents by now. 

For some time I have been thinking how we can organize a project to trace the genealogy of all mechanicians.  It will be fun.  It may even teach us some history of mechanics. 

A thought came to me this afternoon how we can organize this project with very little work.

You can submit data to Mathematics Genealogy Project.  Once you have your own page, you can add the URL of your genealogy to your iMechanica profile.  For example, here is the iMechanica profile of John Hutchinson.  You can click on the URL of his academic genealogy.  At this writing, most of his former students have yet signed up.     

You can then get your advisor and students involved.  You can even submit data for them.

I have make the genealogy as an entry that will appear on the user list of iMechanica. If many of us start to add our own genealogies to our iMechanica profiles, we may soon start to see academic trees.  Who knows? We may even see the academic forest of mechanics.  Some of us may as well be descendents of Isaac Newton, or descendents of Galileo Galilei.

I’m particularly interested in finding out the PhD advisor of William Prager.     


Donald X. Chen's picture

There are many web-based genealogy database we can use. Maybe may build such a genealogy for mechanician from which we can 

learn some historical aspects. A very good website is

the content is for Chinese, but I like the design and style.

WaiChing Sun's picture

hi Professor Suo,

     Your idea reminds me of a book written by Timoshenko (History of Strengths of Materials) which talks about the history of mechanics. Timoshenko has mentioned a lots of scientists/engineers who work on mechanics and how they launch their careers. I think a lots of genealogy and historical information can be extracted from this book and serve as a starting point for the genealogy project of mechanics.  It will be interesting to see some kind of  "family tree" of mechanics. 




Amit Acharya's picture

And John Hutchinson got his PhD from Gergia Tech?

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Amit:  I noticed the error yesterday, and sent the correction to the Project. It will take them a few days to respond. John Hutchinson got his PhD from Harvard under Bernard Budiansky, as you know.

Amit Acharya's picture

thanks, Zhigang.

My two cents: I like the idea of adding our academic genealogies - but i do not like the idea of adding it to the mathematics genealogy project (understand the "ease factor"). If we as a community want to have such a thing, my feeling is it should be independent - as much as I like mathematics and appreciate the connections between  mechanics and mathematics, I think mechanics is not mathematics and we have much to be proud of as a separate discipline and should project it as such.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Amit:  

Thank you very much for your comments.  I totally agree that mechanics is a separate discipline and we have much to be proud.  We can always leave the option open to organize separate genealogy project.  But it will take time, and someone will have to volunteer to get the project started.  

At this point, we may as well regard the Mathematics Genealogy Project as a service, and use the service to collect data.  On their Data Submission Form, one can choose subject categories specific to mechanics, e.g.,

70 Mechanics of particles and systems
74 Mechanics of deformable solids
76 Fluid Mechanics

The community of mechanics has always been using available services.  For example, we have long been part of ASME, although not all of us are really comfortable as mechanical engineers.  Some of us have long belonged to MRS, although few of us may consider MRS our home.  

We can simply regard the Mathematics Genealogy Project as a service we can use for the time being, much like an email software, or a browser.  

What about mathematicians who worked in mechanics? How does one go about that? For instance, L. Euler worked in various areas, including mechanics.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Of course we count Euler as a mechanician, the same way as mathematicians would count Newton as a mathematician.

Amit Acharya's picture

The answer is quite simple - I agree with Zhigang - the ones who think they are as good as Euler or Newton in both mathematics and mechanics can go and list themseleves (or be listed by others) in both genealogy projects.

Yanfei Gao's picture

Somehow I always got the impression that Prager's advisor is the famous Prandtl who discovered the boundary layer in fluid mechanics.

Zhigang Suo's picture

I'm not sure Prager's advisor was Prandtl. Hope someone can shed light.

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Zhigang, Yanfei may be right in spirit if not factually.....from what I have
read about Prager; he became Prandtl's "assistant"  in 1929. Prager was 26 at
that time (--having finished his PhD  at age of 23). While Prandtl may not have
been his formal PhD adivsor, he probably had as much influence on Prager. I too
cannot locate any mention of his advisor's name despite finding a fair number of

Zhigang Suo's picture

Thank you Pradeep.  Following your lead, I did some reading, and traced back the information you have listed.

The page for Prager listed him as receiving his Dr.-Ing. from Technische Universitate Darmstadt, in 1926.  This University does not appear in the page for Prandtl.

The entry of Prandtl in Wikipedia indicates that he was a professor at the University of Gottingen between 1904-1953.

This bio of Prager also indicats that Prager received his doctorate in engineering from Technische Universitate Darmstadt in 1926, and placed him as the Director of the Institute of Applied Mathematics at Gottingen in 1926, when he was only 26 years old.  This basic information is consistent with an entry posted by Brown University.

In Ludwig Prandtl in the Nieteen-Thirties:  Reminiscences, written by Flugge-Lotz and W. Flugge, who were at Gottingen in those years, I found the following two paragraphs:

"German professors have often been compared with kings, each of them a supreme and independent ruler in his domain; Prandtl was a double king, ruling two kingdoms side by side. One of them was the institute for fluid flow jus described. The second kingdom was an institute of the University, the Institute for Applied Mechanics. It was located in the old town, with a view of the canal that carried water to several mills. This was the place where Prandtl started his work when he joined the Gottingen faculty as a young professor. During our time, the day-to-day operations had long been delegated to an assistant, and Prandtl came once a week to exercise his prerogative as director. Several well-known men have started their career from this Assistant position. One of them was A. Nadai (later in Pittsburgh), an authority on plasticity. In a glass box on a wall, the institute preserved his famous marble cylinders, which, when tested in compression in the presence of a high hydrostatic pressure, had not suffered a brittle fracture but showed the barrelshaped plastic deformation known from metal specimens. There had been other interesting test pieces, made of a mixture of wax and soot, but they were melted down by a disrespectful doctoral candidate, who wanted a cheap supply for his own work.

"In the early nineteen-thirties the assistantship was held by W. Prager, who had gathered a lively group of young people around him. Vibrations, plasticity, and photoelasticity were the principal interests of this group. Prandtl, although mostly interested in fluid mechanics, nevertheless wrote in those years his second paper on the "Gedankenmodell," a fictitious model that simulated and-to some extent--explained nonelastic phenomena in solids in terms of more familiar concepts."

We still don't know who was the advior of Prager at Technische Universitate Darmstadt.


Clearly, it would be rather difficult to separate mathematicians from mechanicians, or vice versa.

Ronald Peters's picture

Really interesting project I actually spent time compilling data and helped with a project that used genealogy software. Aside from researching my family tree this would be interesting. 

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