Elected in 1977
“For contributions to aerodynamics, and in recognition of an outstanding career in teaching and research management.”
BY SHON FFOWCS WILLIAMS
SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
JAMES LIGHTHILL, as Professor Sir M. J. Lighthill was known to his friends, died on July 17, 1998, at the age of 74. He suffered a heart attack while swimming around Sark, a swim he had been the first person to do and one that he had previously completed five times. He was considered the dominant mathematical aerodynamicist of his day.
James was the youngest son of doting parents who educated him at the best private schools and saw that he lacked for little. His father, a retired mining engineer who had changed the family name from Lichtenberg during the First World War, moved the family from Paris to London in 1927. James read a great deal and, at an early age, demonstrated impressive feats of memory and high musical talents. James always knew he was clever and found most challenge in mathematics, a subject he was allowed to develop at his own pace, a pace much faster than that of his contemporaries. He won a scholarship to Winchester at the age of 12.
At Winchester he quickly made friends with a boy of remarkably similar age and ability. His friendship with Freeman Dyson had a terrific effect on the mathematical development of both of them. The school knew that they were smarter than most and allowed them to choose the rate and direction of their studies. Both won arts scholarships to Cambridge but,