Teaching: Fellows of The Royal Society join forces at UNSW

Sea surface temperatures vary around the globe Image: NOAA
Tuesday, 26 February, 2013
Deborah Smith

Two members of the world’s oldest and most esteemed scientific academy – The Royal Society – will teach a new course in mathematics this semester.

Professor Herbert Huppert, a distinguished geophysicist at Cambridge University and UNSW, and Professor Trevor McDougall, an eminent oceanographer at UNSW, will give lectures to senior maths students on fluid dynamical processes that underlie several major environmental problems.

Professor Huppert was elected to The Royal Society in 1987 – joining a long list of the world’s top scientists, including Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton. Scientia Professor McDougall was elected last year.

The course, MATH5185, Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics, will explore how fluids move in many familiar, day-to-day situations, such as how blood flows through veins or lava pours from a volcano.

Other areas of study will include aircraft flight, which depends on the flow of air over the wings of planes, and, in the case of gliders, also on thermals – moving currents of hot air in the atmosphere.

In mining, water is injected into the ground to flow through porous rocks and force the extraction of reserves of oil. Local weather in some areas can be affected by the speed at which cold air flows down from a mountain and the way it spreads through a city.

Models of global climate change are also dependent on theoretical knowledge of the interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean, and the way heat and salt become mixed in turbulent seas.

“The same mathematical equations govern the flow of all these types of fluids,” says Professor McDougall.

The course will be attended by honour, masters and senior undergraduate students in maths, but it is also important that other undergraduates acquire some fluid mechanics, Professor McDougall says.

Engineers, for example, may need to understand the flow of water through pipes and airflow in air-conditioning systems.

He says mathematicians are in demand in the workforce in many areas, including the refinement of computer models of climate change to help predict future impacts from rising carbon dioxide levels.

Professor Huppert has been foundation director of the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics at Cambridge University since 1989 and has won many awards, including the 2007 Murchison Medal from the London Geological Society and the 2011 Bakerian Lecture of The Royal Society.

Professor McDougall is also one of Australia’s most highly awarded scientists. He was the first Australian recipient of the Prince Alfred 1 Medal, received in 2011 from the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans.

The Royal Society has about 1450 fellows and foreign members, including more than 80 Nobel laureates.

Other current fellows include Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and John Sulston.

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