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"Audacity or Precision": The Paradoxes of Henri Villat's Fluid Mechanics

Summary: 1
"Audacity or Precision":
The Paradoxes of Henri Villat's Fluid Mechanics
in Interwar France
David Aubin
May 2010
In Interwar France, Henri Villat became the true leader of theoretical researches on fluid
mechanics. Most of his original work was done before the First Word War; it was highly
theoretical and its applicability was questioned. After having organized the first post­WWI
International Congress of Mathematicians in 1920, Villat became the editor of the famous
Journal de mathématiques pure et appliqués and the director of the influential book series
"Mémorial des sciences mathématiques." From 1929 on, he held the fluid mechanics chair
established by the Air Ministry at the Sorbonne in Paris and was heading the government's
critical effort invested in fluid mechanics. However, while both his wake theory and his
turbulence theory seemingly had little success outside France or in the aeronautical industry
(except in the eyes of his students), applied mathematics was despised by the loud generation
of Bourbaki mathematicians coming of age in the mid 1930s. How are we to understand the
contrasted assessments one can make of Villat's place in the history of fluid mechanics?


Source: Aubin, David - Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu, Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, Paris 6
Paris-Sud XI, Université de - Institut d'Optique, Laboratoire Charles-Fabry, Groupe d'Optique Atomique


Collections: Mathematics; Multidisciplinary Databases and Resources; Physics