Biography:Philip Saffman

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Short description: British mathematician (1931–2008)

Philip Saffman
Philip Geoffrey Saffman

(1931-03-19)19 March 1931
Leeds, England
Died17 August 2008(2008-08-17) (aged 77)
Los Angeles
Ruth Arion (m. 1954)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorGeorge Batchelor[2]
Doctoral studentsFrancis Bretherton

Philip Geoffrey Saffman FRS[1] (19 March 1931 – 17 August 2008) was a mathematician and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Applied Mathematics and Aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

Education and early life

Saffman was born to a Jewish family[11] in Leeds, England, and educated at Roundhay Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge which he entered aged 15.[1] He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953,[1] studied for Part III of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos in 1954 and was awarded his PhD in 1956 for research supervised by George Batchelor.[2]

Career and research

Saffman started his academic career as a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, then joined King's College London as a Reader.[1] Saffman joined the Caltech faculty in 1964 and was named the Theodore von Kármán Professor in 1995. According to Dan Meiron, Saffman "really was one of the leading figures in fluid mechanics," and he influenced almost every subfield of that discipline. He is known (with his co-author Geoffrey Ingram Taylor) for the Saffman–Taylor instability in viscous fingering of fluid boundaries,[12] a phenomenon important for its applications in enhanced oil recovery, and for the Saffman–Delbrück model of protein diffusion in membranes which he published with his Caltech colleague and Pasadena neighbour Max Delbrück. He made important contributions to the theory of vorticity arising from the motion of ships and aircraft through water and air; his work on wake turbulence led the airlines to increase the minimum time between takeoffs of aircraft on the same runway.[3][13][14] Saffman also studied the flow of spheroidal particles in a fluid, such as bubbles in a carbonated beverage or corpuscles in blood; his work overturned previous assumptions that inertia was an important factor in these particles' motion and showed instead that Non-Newtonian properties of fluids play a significant role.[8][15]

Along with his many research papers,[10] Saffman wrote a book, Vortex Dynamics,[16][17] surveying a field to which he had been a principal contributor. Russel E. Caflisch writes that "This book should be read by everyone interested in vortex dynamics or fluid dynamics in general."[18][19]

Awards and honours

Saffman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986,[1] and the recipient of the American Physical Society's Otto Laporte Award.[3][4][13][20][21] His nomination for the Royal Society reads:

Personal life

Saffman was survived by his wife (Ruth Arion whom he married in 1954), three children (Mark, Louise, Emma), and eight grandchildren (Timothy, Gregory, Rae, Jenny, Nadine, Aaron, Miriam, Alexandra and Andrey.[1][4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Crowdy, Daniel; Tanveer, Saleh (2014). "Philip Geoffrey Saffman 19 March 1931 -- 17 August 2008". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 60: 375–395. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0021. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Philip Saffman at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Johnson, John, Jr. (22 August 2008), "Philip Geoffrey Saffman, 1931–2008", Los Angeles Times: B6, .
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Obituary Philip G. Saffman 1931–2008", Engineering and Science LXXI (3): 44, Fall 2008 
  5. "Dale Pullin's lecture on life and work of Philip Saffman". 
  6. Philip Geoffrey Saffman (1931–2008) tribute by Dale Pullin on YouTube
  7. Pullin, D.I.; Meiron, D.I. (2013). "Philip G. Saffman". Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics 45: 19–34. doi:10.1146/annurev-fluid-011212-140655. Bibcode2013AnRFM..45...19P. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Stone, H. A. (2000). "Philip Saffman and viscous flow theory". Journal of Fluid Mechanics 409 (1): 165–183. doi:10.1017/S0022112099007697. Bibcode2000JFM...409..165S. 
  9. "Philip Geoffrey Saffman, 77". Caltech. 2008. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Philip Saffman's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (Subscription content?)
  11. Moffatt, H. K.. "Saffman, Philip Geoffrey (1931–2008)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. Saffman, P. G.; Taylor, Geoffrey (1958). "The penetration of a fluid into a porous medium or Hele-Shaw cell containing a more viscous liquid". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences 245 (1242): 312–329. doi:10.1098/rspa.1958.0085. Bibcode1958RSPSA.245..312S. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Williams, Janette (20 August 2008), "Caltech professor, mentor Saffman dies", Pasadena Star-News,, retrieved 23 August 2008 .
  14. Perkins, Sid (22 June 2002), Dangerous wake: Wing vortices yield a deadly secret, Science News, .
  15. Crawford, D. R.; Saffman, P. G.; Yuen, H. C. (1980). "Evolution of a random inhomogeneous field of nonlinear deep-water gravity waves". Wave Motion 2: 1–16. doi:10.1016/0165-2125(80)90029-3. 
  16. Saffman, Philip G. (1992), Vortex Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-47739-0 
  17. Vladimirov, V. A. (1993). "Vortex Dynamics. By P. G. S AFFMAN . Cambridge University Press, 1992. 311 pp. £35 or $69.95". Journal of Fluid Mechanics 256: 720–722. doi:10.1017/S0022112093212939. Bibcode1993JFM...256..720V. 
  18. Caflisch, R. E. (1994). "Vortex Dynamics (P. G. Saffman)". SIAM Review 36 (2): 293–297. doi:10.1137/1036074. 
  19. Cullen, M. J. P. (1996). "Vortex dynamics. Edited by P. G. Saffman. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 31 1. Price £17.95 (paperback). ISBN 0 521 47739 5". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 122 (532): 1015. doi:10.1002/qj.49712253214. Bibcode1996QJRMS.122.1015C. 
  20. "Pasadena Royal Society Selection", Los Angeles Times, 16 June 1988 .
  21. Laporte Award recipients . Retrieved 22 August 2008.
  22. "EC/1988/32: Saffman, Philip Geoffrey". London: The Royal Society. 
  • P.A. Davidson, Y. Kaneda, K. Moffatt, and K.R. Sreenivasan (eds, 2011). A Voyage Through Turbulence, chapter 12, pp 393–425, Cambridge University Press ISBN:978-0-521-19868-4